Authorities in Tanzania have raised the security alert level following attacks on police stations across the country amid fears that youth in the country are becoming radicalised.
A soldier was killed and five others injured last week in a 48-hour gun battle with militants in Tanga, a port city on Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coastline.
Police investigating attacks on three different police stations by unidentified men, who seized guns and ammunition, were led to caves in the area, where they were met with armed resistance and had to call in the army. A day after the gunfight, the police announced that a suspect had been arrested.
The Tanzania People’s Defence Forces issued a statement confirming it had participated in the operation to support the police, the first time in many years that the army has been deployed to deal with a law enforcement matter in the country.
For nearly a week, armed police and soldiers have been patrolling the area, but TPDF spokesman Major Joseph Massanja declined to give details on the army deployment.
Fears that the gunmen could be linked to terror groups have been heightened by the emergence of a video in which an unidentified man, purporting to be the leader of an unnamed group, warns of further attacks on police stations across the country.
In the video, the man says the attackers are prepared to increase their influence in Mtwara, Lindi, Mwanza and Dodoma Regions in the coming days. He ridicules the police force as being poorly trained and ill-equipped and calls for the release of three unnamed associates believed to be in custody.
The police declined to comment on the video and this newspaper has not been able to independently corroborate its authenticity or its link to the attacks.
Neither government spokesman, Assa Mwambene nor Inspector General of Police Ernest Mangu were ready to comment. While Mr Mwambene referred The EastAfrican to the IGP, the police chief said matters concerning security in Tanga are in the hands of Regional Police Commander Fresser Kashai. Mr Kashai termed the the situation calm but said operations were going on to arrest other suspects.
Tanzania has not witnessed a major terror attack since the August 7, 1998 bombing of the United States embassy in Dar es Salaam, but there have been a series of smaller incidents and attacks targeting religious workers, particularly on the restive Zanzibar Islands.
The co-ordinated nature of the attacks on the police stations and the growing regional terror threat from Al Shabaab group, which has carried out attacks in Kenya and Uganda, have renewed debate about the influence of violent extremist groups in Tanzania and the radicalisation of youth.
Multiple sources in diplomatic circles in Dar es Salaam confirmed that they had received warnings that Al Shabaab had recruited fighters from Tanzania and taken them to Somalia.
“The recruitment was consensual and the youth were promised jobs in Somalia but they were blindfolded once they reached the country and trained for Al Shabaab,” a foreign diplomat told The EastAfrican.
Security sources said the government was on high alert after 400 youths who are believed to have been radicalised in Kondoa area in Dodoma, central Tanzania, were arrested over several months, and that arrests are continuing in different parts of the country.
“The major concern is lack of jobs for young people; therefore, they tend to fall for various schemes presented to them. This is likely to be a major challenge for the government in future,” the security source said.
Recent meetings of African leaders have identified terrorism by violent extremist groups such as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram in northern Nigeria as existential threats to peace and national stability.