Extremists Suspected of Zanzibar Church Raids

Several churches have been attacked on the predominantly Muslim island of Zanzibar off the Tanzanian coast, a church official said on Tuesday.

"One church was burnt totally last week," Julian Kangalawe of the Tanzanian Episcopal Conference said, but nobody was injured.

According to a local new agency, the church attacked over the weekend, a Roman Catholic Church, was the third church on the island to fall victim in a recent string of attacks. Earlier in the week, a Lutheran church was set on fire, and the wall of another Roman Catholic Church was destroyed.

Police are investigating the attacks, but no one has been arrested, regional police chief Hamad Issa told another local news agency.

Suspicion has fallen on Muslim extremists, showing rising religious and political tension on the island. Some observers say the assailants may be seeking to drive from the archipelago people from mainland Tanzania before presidential and legislative elections expected at the end of next year. The last elections, in 2000, were marred by voter intimidation, politically motivated violence and other irregularities.

In April, three Roman Catholic churches and a school van were attacked with explosive devices in Zanzibar.

In the same month, suspected Islamic militants set off explosive devices targeting a local pub, homes of government officials and Christian and pro-government Muslim leaders.

Kangalawe said that religious intolerance is increasing on the island, giving as an example that during the holy month of Ramadan last year, people were attacked for eating during the day.

According to the annual International Religious Freedom Report, released last month by the U.S. State Department, there are generally amicable relations among religions in Tanzanian society; however, there continued to be increased tension between Muslims and Christians and between secular and fundamentalist Muslims. Some urban Muslim groups are reportedly sensitive to perceived discrimination in government hiring and law enforcement practices. Muslims continued to perceive government discrimination in favor of Christians in schools, the workplace, and places of worship.

Current statistics on religious demography are unavailable, as religious surveys were eliminated from all government census reports after 1967. However, religious leaders and sociologists generally believe that the country's population is 30 to 40 percent Christian and 30 to 40 percent Muslim, with the remainder consisting of practitioners of other faiths, traditional indigenous religions, and atheists. Zanzibar, which accounts for 2.7 percent of the country's population, is estimated to be 99 percent Muslim.

The Muslim population is most heavily concentrated on the Zanzibar archipelago and in the coastal areas of the mainland. There are also large Muslim minorities in inland urban areas. The Christian population is composed of both Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Foreign Protestant missionaries that operate in the country include Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, and Anglicans.