POLICE are holding three people for questioning in connection with murder of a Roman Catholic Church priest in Zanzibar, Father Evarist Mushi, as President Jakaya Kikwete warns that the government would not put up with an individual or group of people disturbing the peace that the country enjoys.
The priest was shot yesterday morning by unknown assailants at Mtoni area, Urban West region in the Island as he was heading to lead a mass at Betras Catholic Church in the Island.
In a statement issued by the Directorate of Presidential Communications, Mr Kikwete who said he had received with shock and grief the news on the killing of Father Mushi, directed the police force to use its full strength and knowhow by conducting in-depth and speedy investigation to ensure that perpetrator(s) of the act are arrested and arraigned.
He appealed to Catholics and the public in general to remain calm as investigation was being conducted. "President Kikwete extends his heartfelt condolences to Bishop Augustino Shayo of the Zanzibar Catholic Diocese, all Catholic bishops and believers for the loss of the priest," reads the statement.
While pledging to get to the root cause of the recurring attacks, President Kikwete ordered the police to liaise with other local and international security organizations from friendly countries to arrest people behind the crimes.
Father Mushi was pronounced dead on arrival at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital where he was rushed after being shot, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Said Mwema, told a news conference in Dar es Salaam on Sunday.
IGP Mwema said the police had dispatched a team of senior police officers from its headquarters in Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar to lead investigations. The team includes Deputy Police Commissioners Peter Kivuyo and Samson Kasala who will lead intelligence and investigations, respectively, while Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police (SACP) Simon Sirro will be in charge of operations.
"We will crack down on people behind these recurring attacks against religious leaders and houses of worship. Our aim is to arrest people responsible for perpetrating these crimes," IGP Mwema vowed. Adding; "We understand that these crimes are being propped up by some bad elements under the pretext of politics, religion or economic reasons though no religion or political grouping supports violence in principle."
The top cop declined however to mention the three people who have been arrested in connection with the shooting of the priest, fearing that by doing so he would be jeopardizing investigation which is still in earlier stage.
IGP Mwema said the police had beefed up security in all parts of the country adding further that the force was determined to clamp down on elements responsible for funding, inciting and participating in the heinous crimes.
"I thus ask the public to remain calm as investigations are underway, anyone with information should inform the police through mobile phone numbers 0754 785557 and 0782 417247 or contact Regional Police Commanders," he appealed. This is a second incident in which a priest is shot in the Isles in a period of less than three months.
In December last year, Father Ambrose Mkenda was seriously injured when he was shot by unknown people at Tomondo area, as he was getting prepared to alight from his car. From Zanzibar, Issa Yussuf reports that manhunt has been launched for the murders of Father Mushi.
Commissioner of Police (Zanzibar) Mussa Ali Mussa, informed reporters at his office that the motive behind the attack was still unknown, and that it was too early to link with religious conflicts.
Appealing for stability, Commissioner Mussa said that preliminary investigation showed that that three people who were on a motorbike and armed with a pistol waited for the priest close to the Church, and shot him while he was parking his car before going for prayers.
Regional Commissioner for Urban West Abdallah Mwinyi, who was among government leaders who visited Mnazi Mmoja Hospital where the body was kept said, "We are saddened by this incident. Let us join hands to hunt for the perpetrators who want to disrupt the existing peace and harmony in our Islands."
Approached for comment, Bishop Shayo said the situation was tense and that followers have been urged to take extra care but observe maximum tolerance. He said burial arrangements were underway and most likely the deceased would be laid to rest in Zanzibar where he has served for more than 30 years.
Bishop Shayo said he had received a report of the postmortem which revealed two bullets were removed from Fr Mushi's head.