Date: Friday 26 March 2004
Subj: Zanzibar: Church attacked as Islamist zeal and anger rises.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous island territory of Tanzania. Zanzibar is almost exclusively Muslim with only very tiny Hindu and Christian minorities. The island is governed by secular political parties, and generally has been peaceful.
However, the presence of Wahhabi missionaries and jihad recruiters, combined with Muslim anger over the War on Terror and the tensions in the Middle East, has led to an increase in Islamist zeal amongst some younger Zanzibari Muslims. Moderate Zanzibari Muslim leaders, Tanzania officials and foreign diplomats have all expressed concerns about rising Islamist extremism in Zanzibar.
A series of six bomb blasts this month gives rise to fears that radicalised Muslim Zanzibari youths are rising up against Zanzibar's secular government, their moderate Muslim leaders, anything Western, and the Church. Police are worried that the Islamists might be backed by some disgruntled opposition and anti-Western politicians, and that there may also be links to foreign terror groups.
On Friday 5 March, the Islamist group Jumuia ya Uamsho na Mihadhara (Revival and Propagation Organisation) held an illegal demonstration in the streets of Zanzibar. They were demonstrating against the government's ban on their demonstrations. The ban against the group (known simply as Uamsho) is in response to security concerns. In previous rallies and demonstrations, Uamsho has distributed Afghan jihad-training videos and literature, and advocated the killing of secular politicians who refuse to impose Sharia Law.
When Uamsho militants took to the streets after Friday prayers there was a confrontation with the police sent to enforce the ban. The militants threw stones at the riot police and burnt car tyres, forcing the police to fire tear gas canisters into the crowd to disperse the rioters. Several roads had to be closed and unconfirmed reports tell of scores of people being injured. Order was not restored until later that evening.
According to one correspondent, "The demonstrators carried placards reading Mbona Maaskofu hamuwakatazi?, (why don't you ban demonstrations organised by Christian bishops) and mnatuonea Waislam (You're harassing us Moslems?)." (Link 1)
Apart from expressing their grievances, the demonstrators were also protesting against the increasing Western influence on the island, coming primarily through tourism, and the government's appointment of Harith bin Khelef as Mufti. Not only was Khelef was not Uamsho's choice, but Uamsho objects to the principle that the government should appoint the Mufi. They believe the Mufti should be elected.
Thirty-two people were arrested for staging an illegal demonstration and the subsequent riot.
ANGER ESCALATES - CHURCH ATTACKED
Early on Wednesday 10 March, a Roman Catholic Church in central Zanzibar was set ablaze in an act of arson that has been described by police official Hamad Issa as "a deliberate act aimed at inciting religious hostilities in (Zanzibar) ... it's an act of religious intolerance". It has been reported that the arsonists broke into the church and ignited cloth sacks that had been soaked in gasoline. (Link 2)
One week later, on Wednesday 17 March, a petrol bomb destroyed a school bus belonging to the Catholic Church while it was parked in the school grounds. The following day five senior members of Uamsho were detained as suspects in the church attacks.
POLITICAL GRIEVENCE and ANTI-WESTERN SENTIMENT
On Friday evening 19 March, the home of Zanzibar's Mufti and top Islamic leader, Harith bin Khelef (who was appointed by the government), was attacked with explosives. Three suspects have been detained but no details have been released.
On Saturday evening 20 March, a grenade lobbed over the fence of the home of Zubeir Ali Maulid, a cabinet minister in the Zanzibar government.
Also on Saturday 20 March, a grenade was thrown into a restaurant filled with foreign guests. It landed on the dinner table of a British diplomat but fortunately it failed to go off. An American diplomat and about 25-30 foreigners were also dining there at the time. Bomb experts from the Tanzania People's Defence Force (TPDF) removed and dealt with the explosive that proved to be quite substantial and would certainly have resulted in fatalities.
A number of electric transformers were also bombed on the weekend and TPDF bomb experts defused yet another bomb placed inside a bar in Zanzibar's capital city, Stone Town (also known as Zanzibar Town).
There were no casualties in any of the attacks. Police suspect Uamsho to be responsible for the weekend explosions.
Chris Tomlinson, a reporter with Associated Press, reports from Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago that "tabligh," or missionaries from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan, "go from mosque to mosque spouting sermons of hate -- sometimes scripted by radical groups in Saudi Arabia.
"After speaking at religious services, the "tabligh," or missionaries, begin recruiting young men, sometimes offering a chance to join Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida."
Tomilson quotes Ali Abdallah Amani, the Pemba representative of Zanzibar's top Muslim leader, as saying, "They do it in a very, very, very secret way, but they do it. Sometimes they are Arabs, sometimes they are people working for them. There are some [charitable] agencies that sometimes use a native of the village [to recruit] because the others would be caught by the police."
According to Tomilson, the tabligh teach, "There is an army of Muslims and they are fighting an army of non-Muslims who are trying to destroy Islam." This is a direct quote from one tabligh named Zahor Issa Omar. Omar is from the island of Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago. Tomilson reports that Omar trained at a Wahhabi Islamic school in Raiwind, Pakistan, but "declined to discuss al-Qaida or whether he has been to Afghanistan or received military training. He said he now helps spread the fundamentalists' ideology in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, urging Muslims to become more devout and to join the struggle against non-Muslims."
Wahhabi "charities" allegedly pay the tabligh a high salary. A Western diplomat told Tomilson that Saudi institutions not only finance extremist tabligh, but also provide suggested texts for their sermons. (Link 4)
- Elizabeth Kendal
1) Zanzibar erupts, 6 March 2004
By Correspondent Mwinyi Sadallah, Zanzibar
2) 'Act of religious intolerance', 11 March 2004 - SA
3) Zanzibar leaders attacked, 21 March 2004 - SA
4) 'Missionaries' recruit fighters
By Chris Tomlinson
The Associated Press, 22 Feb 2004
(if you are interested)
TANZANIA: Police probing protestors' link to opposition party
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
9 March 2004, Dar Es Salaam