Christian leaders in Tanzania have been left in a state of fear after two pastors were killed in less than a week. One pastor from the Island of Zanzibar was followed to his church by two Muslim youths and executed on the doorstep of his church. After the attack, a text message from extremists suspected to be responsible for the attack vowed to make Easter a disaster for Christians living in Zanzibar. Many Christian leaders are taking security precautions, but many remain in fear for their lives.
2/22/2013 Tanzania (CatholicHerald) – Zanzibar’s bishop has said priests and other clergy in his diocese are terrified after a priest was murdered outside his parish church in what is seen by many as a terrorist attack.
“We are very afraid,” said Bishop Augustine Shao, noting that clergy “were warned of attacks” before and after the murder last week of 56-year-old Fr Evaristus Mushi.
Fr Mushi’s car was followed by two men on motorcycles who blocked his way, shot and killed him, Bishop Shao said in a telephone interview from Zanzibar, a group of Indian Ocean islands that is part of Tanzania.
The Vatican’s Fides news agency reported that a text message, received by bishops and priests in Tanzania after Fr Mushi’s death, said: “We thank our young men, trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished: at Easter, be prepared for disaster”; Signed “Muslim Renewal”.
“We have given the warnings we have received to security” authorities in Zanzibar, Bishop Shao said, noting that he was sceptical but hopeful that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
“Many promises have been made, but they [the authorities] are very slow to make good on these promises,” he said.
Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete said in a statement that he had directed the police force to use its full strength to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation into Fr Mushi’s murder.
The Tanzanian inspector general of police, Said Mwema, said the police “understand that these crimes are being propped up by some bad elements under the pretext of politics, religion or economic reasons, though no religion or political grouping supports violence in principle,” according to Tanzania’s Daily News.
About 30 per cent of mainland Tanzanians are Christian, 35 per cent are Muslim and 35 per cent profess traditional African beliefs. In Zanzibar, more than 95 per cent of residents are Muslim.
About two-thirds of Zanzibar’s population of 1.2 million lives on the main island of Unguja, about 30 miles from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and commercial hub.
A Protestant pastor in Zanzibar, Mathew Kachira, was killed a week earlier, according to Fides.
Bishop Shao said another diocesan priest, Fr Ambrose Mkenda, was shot and seriously wounded on Christmas Day and is still in the hospital.
Also, last November, a Muslim cleric had his face and chest injured in an acid attack.
More than five churches on the island were set alight in arson attacks last year.
This type of attack “is new to the country, and we are looking for reasons”, Bishop Shao said, noting that the perpetrators “could be criminals using the cover of religion”.
Another possibility is that advocates for Zanzibar’s secession from the mainland are “using attacks on the Church for political gain”, Bishop Shao said.
“They feel that no one is listening to them, and it could be that, through these attacks on the church, they want to draw the world’s attention to their cause,” he said.
While “Christians and Muslims have been living peacefully together in Zanzibar for more than 200 years,” Muslim extremists “have infiltrated the island and are said to be bribing unemployed youth to carry out their work”, the bishop said.