Zanzibar priest murder linked to Al Shabaab

Saturday February 23 2013

By MARY JOHN Special Correspondent

Investigations into the recent murder of a Catholic priest and the blowing up of a church in Zanzibar are pointing to an act of religious intolerance orchestrated by Muslim fundamentalists, with the attacks being linked to the Al Shabaab terror group.

This emerged as The EastAfrican established that Tanzania had called in intelligence officers from the United States of America and United Kingdom to help track down the killers of Evarist Mushi.

A church under construction in the largely Muslim archipelago of Zanzibar was set on fire 48 hours after the priest’s murder.

The Tanzania Police Force said that Father Mushi was blocked by two young men at the entrance of the church in Zanzibar City, where one of the attackers shot the priest in the head.

The Zanzibar shooting came barely a week after another religious attack that saw the killing of Mathayo Kachili of the Assemblies of God Church in Geita region; the pastor was beheaded by Muslim extremists on the Tanzania mainland as religious tensions increase between Christians and Muslims.

Local investigators are said to be in constant touch with foreign agencies, particularly those of the United States, to exchange information related to the murder, including whether it was carried out by a homegrown terror outfit having links across the border or by terrorists based in neighbouring countries.

The incident has sparked fears that Tanzania could be headed for serious religious conflict.

Bishop Obeid Fabian, head of the Zanzibar Pastors’ Fellowship, said churches in Zanzibar had in recent months appealed to the government to step up security, especially for pastors on the Muslim-majority island, but nothing much had been done.

The bishop said it was unfortunate that, over the past five years, more than seven churches had been burnt down while the Isles government had not arrested anyone in connection with the violence.

The Tanzania National Security Council on Monday last week ordered government security agencies to immediately negotiate with foreign intelligence agencies over the killing of the Catholic priest.

Assistance available

US ambassador Alfonso Lenhardt said that the State Department was ready to assist the Tanzania government as needed.

“This vicious and cowardly act is the third directed against a religious leader in Zanzibar since November 2012 and goes against the long held values and culture of peace, where many peoples and cultures have lived and worked side by side for centuries,” said Mr Lenhardt.

The EU delegation called for a thorough investigation of the latest incident, as well as previous ones.