ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA (BosNewsLife)– A Catholic priest was shot dead Sunday, February 17, on his way to church in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, just days after a pastor was beheaded by suspected Muslim extremists on the mainland, officials and Christians said.
“Father Evarist Mushi was blocked by two young men at the entrance of the church” in Zanzibar City, the capital, where “one of the attackers shot him in the head,” said the island’s police spokesman Mohammed Mhina in published remarks.
It was the second such attack on the Muslim-majority island of 1.2 million people in recent months. On Christmas Day, gunmen shot and seriously wounded a Catholic priest as he returned home from church.
Police did not know whether both attacks were related, but local Christians said there has been a rise in Islamic attacks against individual believers and churches.
Sunday’s shooting came while on the mainland, in Tanzania’s Geita Region, Christians were mourning the violent death of a pastor of an Assemblies of God Church.
Pastor Mathayo Kachili was reportedly beheaded Monday, February 11,by what witnesses called a mob of Muslim extremists and “radicals”.
Police commander Denis Stephano told reporters that the killing in Buseresere town was sparked by tensions over whether Christians were allowed to open and operate butcheries in the area.
The killing sparked deadly riots between religious Christians and Muslims, with at least one attacker reportedly dying of his injuries, before police was able to intervene.
Pastor Kachili leaves behind a wife and several children who depended on his salary to make a living, Christians said.
In a reaction, rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) suggested that that this was part of a wider Islamic campaign against Christians in East Africa.
“Just last week, two Christian pastors in Garissa, Kenya were attacked by Islamic extremists suspected to be connected with [militant group] al-Shabab,” explained William Stark, ICC regional manager for Africa.
“The increase of attacks on Christians can be linked to the spread of radical Islam across East Africa. Groups like al-Shabab and its sympathizers have shown that they are not afraid to attack and kill Christians in countries that are traditionally thought of as Christian,” he told BosNewsLife in a statement.
Stark isn’t optimistic about the future. “Until the issue of radical Islam is confronted in East Africa, we will continue to see attacks on Christians and other minority groups. If ignored, the spread of radical Islam has the potential to turn East Africa into another Nigeria or Mali where Christians are persecuted and killed by the hundreds.”
In Zanzibar, however, police said they were investigating the latest killing of a priest. “For now, we cannot say what the motives are for the attack, but we have launched search operations for the attackers,” added spokesman Mhina.
Authorities are concerned more violence could threaten the tourism industry, the main foreign currency earner for Zanzibar, known for its white-sand beaches and historical buildings in Stone Town, listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.