Police Guard Muslim School From Rocks, Threats, Feces

Police have been deployed to guard a beleaguered Muslim school for young women in a predominantly Cham community in Tbong Khmum province, amid ongoing attacks against the facility by unknown assailants, and death threats against educators, officials said on Wednesday.

Since late last month, the assailants have taken to throwing “rocks and bags of feces” over the wall surrounding the school compound in Kroch Chhmar district’s Trea commune, according to deputy district police chief Ouk Pov.

“The attacks have not stopped,” he said.

In the latest incident, on Monday night, someone lobbed a rock onto the grounds wrapped in a piece of paper bearing death threats that described the school’s founder, Muhammad Abdulrahman, a local imam, the imam’s son and a teacher as “dogs,” said commune police chief Seng Ly.

The eight-building school caters to 150 students who take classes in the Cham language, cultural history and religious practices. The school attracted attention in November when 24 out-of-town students fainted en masse in their stilted dormitory, situated in a wooded area a short distance from the facility.

After the fainting, students told police they had seen shadowy figures beneath the building and detected a foul odor before beginning to panic and pass out. Though medical examinations returned no evidence of poisoning, authorities concluded they were victims of a chemical attack motivated by hostility between members of the local Cham community, a view shared by Mr. Abdulrahman.

Due to concerns for their safety, the boarding students—from Phnom Penh and Kompong Cham province —were moved to a storage room on the grounds in late December and remain there.

Since then, authorities say, the school itself has come under attack.

Mr. Pov, the deputy district police chief, said investigators had not yet identified any suspects in the case, nor determined a clear motive.

“We are processing this investigation to find clues,” he said. “We have ordered commune police officers to stand guard there at night to prevent any attack that could happen in the future.”

Mr. Abdulrahman, who opened the school in 2013 using $100,000 in donations from Muslim friends in Turkey, said in November that he believed the boarding students were targeted because of long-festering tension in the community about how the money should have been spent.

Mr. Abdulrahman—who is originally from Phnom Penh and moved to Tbong Khmum to open the school—said on Wednesday that the school was being attacked by “jealous” locals resentful of his status as an outsider.

“I believed the perpetrators are Cham people in the community who are jealous of us,” he said.

“One night, when the students were sleeping, an unidentified person threw firecrackers against our walls to disturb the students,” he said. “I do not understand their behavior. Even the water tanks…for students to drink from and use, the suspects put feces inside.”

Mr. Ly, the commune police chief, said that while his officers had been taking turns guarding the school at night, with occasional assistance from district police, they had been unsuccessful in stopping the barrage of rocks, threats and feces.

“We cannot prevent all of the incidents from happening because we cannot patrol there all the time. Sometime, when our officials relaxed, they did it,” he said, adding that he did not believe religion was a motivating factor in the attacks.

“[School administrators] have been living here for a long time and never had any trouble. I think it is a dispute among the community leaders who want to be on top.”

sokhean@cambodiadaily.com

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