(eTN) – In what has been described as acts of frenzied madness, radical Islamists attacked at least two churches in Zanzibar over the weekend. The churches were set on fire while the radicals engaged in running battles with security forces, which were rushed to the scene to deal with the outbreak of sectarian violence, amidst demands to remove Zanzibar from the union, Tanganyika, under which the United Republic of Tanzania was formed two years after independence.
Senior members of the Uamsho radical movement were arrested, as were scores of others from among the rioters, and tourism sources from Zanzibar have expressed their serious concern over the safety of tourists, now that the threshold of burning Christian churches was crossed. Last year, the same radical group was accused of having organized attacks on bars, clearly with the aim of introducing a radical form of Islam to the island, banning alcohol and turning tourist resorts into empty shells, in what has, in the past, been a moderate and tolerant Islamic society on the Spice Island.
All of yesterday, tourists were kept in their resorts as heavily armed riot police and other security organizations were deployed in the ancient Stone Town, where the usual hustle and bustle of shops and street vendors bargaining with tourists had come to a standstill.
Uamsho, a Swahili word in short for the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, has demanded a referendum to leave the union, and members in the past were reported to have vowed to use whatever means necessary to force the issue, clearly not ruling out violence as seen this weekend.
Tanzania, hitherto one of East Africa’s most peaceful countries with not one internal uprising or coup attempt, is reeling from the level of violence reported from Zanzibar, and the tourism industry has already raised concerns and asked for immediate assurances from government that the safety and security of tourists would be guaranteed at all times, while in turn informing overseas tour operators of the event and pointing out that not one tourist has come to harm as the immediate reaction from resort and hotel managers kept the visitors in the resorts and made sure they would not be caught up in the street clashes.
Said a regular source from Zanzibar in response to queries raised overnight and awaited on before dispatching this report: “The attack on two churches, and burning one completely and one partially, is the worst I have seen. It crossed the line in the sand, because the majority of Muslims in Zanzibar [were] always tolerant of other religions and vice versa. If this radicalization is now spreading, we are worried that the next thing they do is burn a resort or a restaurant or bar or night spot where tourists would normally go.
“The weekend has changed the game for Zanzibar tourism, and we need to sit and strategize the way forward and how we can prevent tourists getting caught or targeted by such criminals. We shall also sit with government to map out a response about how TTB is dealing with this and how we can get extra security to beef up our own in the resorts.”
Tourism Minister Khamis Kagesheki is also expected to issue a statement about the incidents later today, as clearly the events shocked the political establishment in Dar es Salaam with the degree of violence and the targeting of Christian churches.