19 February 2013

Tanzania: Shock and Grief As Priest Is Assassinated

Stone Town — The Catholic and Muslims Communities in the Island of Zanzibar are still in shock and grief over the assassination of a Catholic Priest by gunmen on Sunday, February 17.

Based on a reconstruction by police and confirmed by Bishop Shao, Father Evarist Mushi was shot dead while parking his car outside St Joseph's parish. It was 7:00 a.m and the priest was headed to celebrate the first Sunday mass of Lent in his parish. The gunmen were apparently waiting for him and fled the scene on a motorbike.

According to Tanzania's The Guardian newspaper, police have already arrested three suspects in connection to the murder, though there are few elements on the actual motive.

The late Fr Mushi worked for long in the anti AIDS program, in a long collaboration between the local Church and Muslim community and he also encouraged inter-faith dialogue.

"The majority of Muslims wants peace and dialogue, but in the past two years extremist groups appear to have gained strength, according to the government stemming from funding from abroad", explained Bishop Shao.

Among the most known is Uamasho, "reawakening" in Swahili, a group formed in 2001 battling for full autonomy of the archipelago from Tanzania.

The incident was not the first in Zanzibar against a Catholic priest. Gunmen opened fire at Christmas against Father Ambrose Mkenda, injuring him. The archipelago has a status of semi-autonomy from Tanzania and last year was theater to unrest after the arrest of Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, leader of an extremist group that does not represent the majority of Muslims.

Meanwhile Fides was told about a terrifying SMS in Tanzania, received by local bishops and priests, in which Islamist extremists claim responsibility for the murder of the Catholic priest Fr Evarist Mushi.

"We thank our young men, trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished: at Easter, be prepared for disaster"; Signed "Muslim Renewal".

The Catholic Church in Tanzania is concerned and anxious. Reaction has come also from national leaders: Tanzania's Prime Minister called an immediate meeting with leading members of the Christian and Muslim communities, but the outcome was not positive. Certain Muslim leaders called for the release from prison of the suspected assassins of a local Protestant pastor, Mathew Kachira, killed on February 10. Local Catholic Church sources told Fides that clearly, behind these attacks and murders lays Islamist extremism spreading across the country.

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