7 May 2013

Tanzania Investigates Arusha Church Attack, Citizens On Edge

Photo: Lauren Everitt/AllAfrica
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete vows to hunt Arusha church bombers (file photo).

Dar es Salaam — Police and the Tanzania People's Defence Force have formed a task force to investigate the bombing at Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Arusha on Sunday (May 5th) that killed three people and injured more than 60.

The government views the incident as the continuation of a conspiracy by some individuals to incite the public and stoke tensions between the country's Christians and Muslims, Minister of Home Affairs Emmanuel Nchimbi told parliament on Monday.

"Through this parliament, the government warns that it will use maximum force and will do all it takes to fight whoever wants to introduce religious tension in this country," he said. "I warn the politicians who want to gain popularity by creating religious chaos in the country."

Initially, six suspects -- two Tanzanians and four from Saudi Arabia -- were arrested in connection with the bombing, officials said.

"Victor Kalist Ambross, who was seen hurling the bomb at the church, has been arrested," Nchimbi told parliament, not naming the others.

Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda updated parliament on Tuesday with news of more arrests and another death.

He said 24 people out of 66 who were injured in the attack have been discharged from the hospital, but one more victim has died.

Regina Losioki, 46, died at the scene, and James Gabriel, 16, died at Mount Meru Regional Hospital after being taken there in critical condition. The third victim has not yet been named.

Pinda said two more suspects were arrested and he described the bomb used as a stick hand grenade. "Further investigation is going on to establish whether it was locally made or outsourced from abroad," Pinda said.

President Jakaya Kikwete condemned the attack, calling it "an act of terrorism perpetrated by a cruel person or group who are enemies of the country". The president was on an official visit to Kuwait to discuss bilateral relations at the time of the attack, but ended his visit a day early to return to Tanzania.

Arusha Regional Police Commander Liberatus Sabas told Sabahi that Ambross was arrested after witnesses identified him as the man they saw throwing a bomb from a motorcycle.

Police have sealed off the area around the church, Sabas said. He urged anyone with information that could help with the investigation to come forward.

'It was terrifying'

The attack took place as worshippers and dignitaries packed into the newly built church in Arusha's Olasiti suburb to celebrate its first mass, beginning at 10 am. Among the worshippers were the Vatican's Ambassador to Tanzania Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla and Archbishop Josaphat Louis Lebulu of the Arusha Diocese.

Tanzania Information Services Director Assah Mwambene, who was at the church on Sunday, said a huge blast went off as soon as the mass started.

"We were all deafened," he said. "When I looked around, I saw people bleeding, lying down, and drums and other [musical] instruments scattered. It was terrifying."

Eliya Mbonea, a journalist in the Arusha region, said city residents were in a grip of panic and sending messages to each other, accusing followers of other religions for the attack and advising family members against attending mass out of concern for safety.

Said Ahmed, 58, a resident in the Ilala district of Dar es Salaam, told Sabahi he was saddened by the escalating religious tension between Christians and Muslims in Tanzania, something that has not existed before.

He said the Arusha bombing reminded him of the killing of a Catholic priest in Zanzibar in February and the ongoing conflict over meat slaughtering rules.

"The government has to do something," Ahmed told Sabahi.

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