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Third church in four months burnt down in north-west Tanzania

12 May 2016

Last Monday (2 May), yet another church was burnt down in north-west Tanzania, however the church has refused to stop meeting. The church’s minister, Fortunatus Bijura, said, “Those who think that destroying our church means we won’t pray, they are wrong … We have a big tree near the church and will continue meeting there for prayers." No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

This is the third arson attack on a church in the area since January. Since 2013, there have been over 13 such attacks on churches in the area and no-one has yet been held accountable for them.

Although Christians and Muslims in Tanzania traditionally lived together in peace, in the past few years tensions have been high. In February 2013, for example, a pastor was beheaded in the town of Buseresere, in north-west Tanzania, following the opening of a non-Muslim butchery. Two months later, two Christians in the town of Tunduma, on the border with Zambia, were killed after a row over the slaughter of animals.

The following years witnessed yet further attacks, including two incidents in June 2015. In the first, a Christian man was killed in the southern city of Morogoro by a group of over 50 radical Muslims who saw him carrying a Bible. In the same month, in the western town of Kigoma, a Christian family was attacked while they prayed together at home. Two people were seriously injured in the attack.

Tanzania is 60% Christian and 36% Muslim. The attacks on Christians appear to be linked to two Islamist groups – “Uamsho”, which ostensibly seeks to create an Islamic state with strict sharia enforcement on Zanzibar but has also been active on the mainland, and a group calling itself “Muslim Renewal”. The latter claims to have links to Somalia. In recent years, Tanzania has been helping train the Somalian army in their fight against al-Shabaab militants.

The attacks on Christians in recent years in Tanzania are a sign that jihadist violence in North East Africa is increasingly moving southwards.