Amid spread of ISIS, US warns of potential attacks on churches, soft targets in Tanzania

Worshipers attend an evangelistic crusade rally Dodoma, Tanzania, in December 2018.
Worshipers attend an evangelistic crusade rally Dodoma, Tanzania, in December 2018. | One God - One Day - One Africa

Amid the spread of the Islamic State in southern an eastern Africa, the U.S. government has warned about the potential for terror attacks in Tanzania, an East African country largely seen as being among the region's most peaceful. 

An advisory issued by the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania last week warns of the increasing potential for target places like hotels, embassies, restaurants, malls and places of worship, specifically naming the coastal town of Dar es Salaam. 

"Locations frequented by U.S. citizens and other Westerners in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere in Tanzania continue to be attractive targets to terrorists planning to conduct attacks," reads the advisory.

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Tanzania has been infiltrated by the Islamic State jihadists due to its proximity to the Muslim-dominated province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.

"Terrorist groups could attack with little or no warning, targeting hotels, embassies, restaurants, malls and markets, police stations, places of worship, and other places frequented by Westerners," the embassy stressed.

ICC reports that a church leader in Tanzania has asked believers to be alert and prayerful.

"The Lord has been good to Tanzania over the years, and we are thankful for that. We have had times of tears due to terrorism, but we are not like other East African neighbors," the unnamed church leader was quoted as saying. "Lately, we have seen how our young men and women have joined terrorist groups within the region, and so we should remain vigilant and prayerful and ask God to protect us from these enemies."

An advisory on Tanzania issued by the United Kingdom government also says terrorists are "very likely" to attempt attacks in Tanzania.

"They could be indiscriminate and occur without warning," the U.K. advisory states. "Places frequented by westerners, including places of worship, transport hubs, embassies, hotels, restaurants and bars, and major gatherings like sporting or religious events may be targets."

Tanzania has not experienced a major terrorist attack since the bombing of the U.S. embassy in 1998, but there have been several smaller-scale incidents.

In neighboring northern Mozambique, thousands have been killed and nearly 1 million displaced by violence committed by Islamic extremist groups since an insurgency began in 2017.

During that time, radicals attacked several villages and took control of a province rich with gas, rubies, graphite, gold and other natural resources.

In this mostly-Muslim region of Mozambique in the otherwise Christian-majority country, Islamic extremists kidnap women and keep them as sex slaves and force boys to become child soldiers, according to The Washington Post.

Last year, militant groups affiliated with the Islamic State killed at least 29 Christians and displaced hundreds of residents in northern Mozambique in September and October.

report published by the Pennsylvania-based Barnabas Aid stated that at least 21 Christians were killed by Islamist extremists in October in Cabo Delgado province. In September, Barnabas Aid released another report stating that militants from the same terror group had killed at least eight Christians and set fire to two churches and 120 houses in Cabo Delgado and neighboring Nampula province.

The U.S. labeled Islamic State-Mozambique as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorists." Known as Ansar al-Sunna, the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in early April 2018.

"Since October 2017, ISIS-Mozambique, led by Abu Yasir Hassan, has killed more than 1,300 civilians, and it is estimated that more than 2,300 civilians, security force members, and suspected ISIS-Mozambique militants have been killed since the terrorist group began its violent extremist insurgency," the State Department stated in a March 2021 report.

"The group was responsible for orchestrating a series of large scale and sophisticated attacks resulting in the capture of the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado Province."

In its 2020 country report on Tanzania, the State Department stated that Islamic State Mozambique launched two attacks inside Tanzania in 2020.  

"Renewed assurances of Tanzania-Mozambique cross-border security cooperation have yet to materialize; however, bilateral cooperation will be important to securing Tanzanian citizens and territory," the report reads. 

On Oct. 14, 2020, an estimated 300 Islamic State fighters attacked the Kitaya village on the border with Mozambique, killing 20. The militants looted and burned homes, shops, vehicles and an office building. 

Two weeks later, the Islamic State-affiliated militants attacked Michenjele village, 25 miles from Kitaya, killing five and kidnapping others as they looted and burned homes and other buildings. 

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