Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - Three suspects are in police custody for questioning in connection with Sunday’s murder of a Catholic priest in Zanzibar, Tanzania’s Inspector General of Police Said Mwema has said.
Without giving further details on the incident that has shocked Tanzanians and prompted religious leaders, both Christians and Muslims, to condemn sectarian tendencies in the country, Mwema said he had set up a team of senior police officers to investigate the killing of Fr. Evarist Mushi.
According to him, the suspects were apprehended almost immediately after the police were informed about the shooting of the priest at Mtoni area in Zanzibar Urban West region.
In a quick reaction to the incident on Sunday, President Jakaya Kikwete gave the police the green light to engage international crime busters in tracking down the killers and perpetrators of recurring attacks on religious leaders and houses of worship in Tanzania.
“We understand that these crimes are propped up by some bad elements under the pretext of politics, religion or economic motives though, in principle, no religion or political group supports violence,” Mwema explained.
He said the investigation team was headed by Deputy Commissioner of Police Samson Kasara, assisted by Head of Intelligence Peter Kivuyo and Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Simon Siro.
Meanwhile, Tanzania’s Home Affairs Minister Emmanuel Nchimbi has said the clergyman’s murder smacked of terrorism.
“Persons who committed this murder were terrorists and the government is determined to hunt them down at any cost,” Nchimbi told journalists in Zanzibar.
A medical officer who carried out a postmortem on the deceased’s body at Zanzibar’s Mnazi Mmoja Referral Hospital, Dr Msafiri Marijani, said it had three bullet wounds on the head.
Meanwhile, Bishop Augustino Shayo of the Catholic Diocese of Zanzibar has described the general situation in Zanzibar as “tense” in the wake of the priest’s murder, and he urged the people to exercise maximum tolerance.
He said Fr. Mushi had served the church on the island for over 30 years.
Former Tanzanian president Ali Hassan Mwinyi has blamed what he described as “the escalated degree of mistrust and religious intolerance among Muslims and Christians on the Isles” as factors that led to the priest’s killing.
Speaking Sunday at a Maulid gathering here, Mwinyi said criminal incidents in Zanzibar had left believers of the two major religions - Christianity and Islam - in mutual suspicion and mistrust.
Dar es Salaam Chief Sheikh, Alhaj Juma Salum, has appealed to the police to hasten investigations into the killing of the priest.
He said there were indications that the tense situation in Zanzibar was fuelled by supporters of the Islamic Revival Group, popularly known by its Kiswahili name as ‘Uamsho’, whose leaders were still detained pending charges related to last year’s riots during which some church buildings were torched.