Tanzania is the latest in a growing number of African countries to be struggling with escalating Islamist terror. In this country of 45 million people, over 60 percent of whom are Christian, church leaders are the canaries in the coalmine. On Sunday, 55-year-old Catholic priest Father Evarist Mushi was shot dead by assailants on a motorcycle in front of Zanzibar’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral just before Sunday morning Mass. According to the Pontifical news agency Fides, local bishops and priests received a message claiming responsibility from a group calling itself “Muslim Renewal.”
The Islamist group, boasting of ties to the al-Qaeda-linked terror group al-Shabaab, issued a chilling threat:
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.
The priest’s death come one week after the murder of a local Protestant pastor, Mathew Kachira, Fides reports. Around Christmas, another Catholic priest, Father Ambrose Mkenda, was seriously injured in an ambush and remains hospitalized.
According to Fides, immediately following Sunday’s attack, Tanzania’s prime minister met with Christian and Muslim leaders, and some of the latter called for the release from prison of the suspected assassins of Pastor Kachira.
Local Catholic Church sources told Fides that Islamist extremism is spreading across the East African country. Catholic bishop Damiani Denis Dallu of Geita told Fides: “All we desire is peace and unity and love to reign among the citizens of Tanzania, irrespective of religious beliefs.” Moderate Muslim leaders, the bishop said, “are afraid because they too are targeted by Islamic extremists.” The U.S. State Department reports that in recent years Muslim mobs chanting “Allahu Akbar” have burned down a number of churches in Tanzania, but the current situation seems to signal a ratcheting up in the assaults.
Corner readers will remember the Salafi war on Christians last Easter in Nigeria, when the Islamist group Boko Haram targeted a Protestant church with a car suicide bomb that killed 39 and wounded dozens. In both Tanzania and Nigeria, as in Mali, a key aim of the terrorists is to impose sharia law.
— Nina Shea is director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co-author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (Thomas Nelson Publishers, March 2013).