ZANZIBAR, Tanzania (Morning Star News) — Islamic extremist attacks and land grabs on this semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania have continued unabated even as violence has increased on the mainland.
The May 5 bombing of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Arusha killed a 45-year-old woman, a 16-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. Of the two Tanzanians and four foreigners arrested — now officially identified as one from Saudi Arabia and three from the United Arab Emirates — only one Tanzanian national reportedly remains in custody as a suspect.
While Islamic extremist activity has increased in Tanzania, Christians on the Zanzibar archipelago have recently suffered attacks by Islamists and the separatist group Uamsho (Re-awakening). Uamsho, the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, has issued explicit threats to Christians on Zanzibar Island since October 2012.
At midnight on April 20, Islamic extremists in Kianga, 16 kilometers (11 miles) from Zanzibar City, demolished most of the Pool of Siloam church building, a church leader said. Three suspects were arrested, only to be released after three days.
“When we tried to follow up the case, we found out that some of the information concerning the pulling down of the church was missing,” church pastor Israel Baraka Elijah told Morning Star News. “Hence, we decided to give up all together.”
Damages were estimated at $2,500, he added. Muslim extremists had attacked the church building before, setting part of it on fire on Feb. 19 and battering it with sledge hammers in November 2011.
Buildings aren’t the only targets. Suspected Islamic extremists on Feb. 17 shot and killed the Rev. Evaristus Mushi, a 56-year-old Roman Catholic priest, in the Mtoni area outside Zanzibar City. The murder came nearly two months after the Christmas Day shooting of another Catholic priest, the Rev. Ambrose Mkenda, that seriously injured him. Uamsho had left leaflets threatening to kill church leaders of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Tanzania Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Church denominations.
The Islamist group is fighting for full autonomy of the Zanzibar archipelago; it arose after Zanzibar’s primary opposition, the Civic United Front, formed a government with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party in 2010.
How Uamsho’s separatist agenda could overlap with Islamic extremists” objectives on the mainland remains to be seen, but the Zanzibar-based group has increased in stature by appealing to Islamist sentiments. While Tanzania’s population is 34.2 percent Muslim and 54 percent Christian, according to Operation World, the Zanzibar archipelago in the Indian Ocean about 25 miles off the Tanzanian coast is more than 97 percent Muslim.
Islamists burned several church buildings in various parts of Tanzania last October after an argument between two children about the Koran resulted in a Christian boy allegedly defiling Islam’s sacred book (see Morning Star News, Oct. 19, 2012). In Kigoma, on the western border, two church buildings were set ablaze on Oct. 14, 2012, and the roof of another one was destroyed. In Dar es Salaam, where two boys” argument over the Koran set off the violence, three church buildings were set on fire on Oct. 12, and another was destroyed on Oct. 18.
The attacks on church buildings came after Muslims began falsely asserting that Christians had sent the Christian boy to the Muslim boy to urinate on the Koran in the Mbagala area of Dar es Salaam on Oct. 10, sources said.
On Oct. 17, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania leaders released a statement saying church buildings had also been set ablaze in Mdaula, Mto wa Mbu, Tunduru and Rufiji. The Mbagala attacks, they stated, resulted from inflammatory statements by local religious leaders….