Two bombs were detonated on the precincts of Christ Church Cathedral in Zanzibar today in the latest of a series of attacks on Christians on the East African archipelago.
On 24 February 2014 two explosions rocked the main entrance to Christ Church Cathedral and the Old Slave Market – the island’s largest tourist attraction. The Vicar General of Zanzibar tells Anglican Ink there were no fatalities in the blast.
“We thank God there were no injuries,” he wrote in an email shortly after the attack.
“Police are investigating and have swept the compound. We are assessing the situation, in contact with multiple agencies and Western government officials. The British Consul was on site almost immediately and a tremendous help to us. The people here are obviously shaken.”
Zanzibar has been the scene of several attacks on native Christians and Western tourists. In October 2012 the cathedral was attacked after militant Islamists rioted in the wake of the disappearance of a leading Muslim cleric.
Anglican leaders were evacuated after Islamist militants issued death threats against Bishop Michael Hafidh and foreign clergy serving on the island. Built on the sight of the former slave market of Zanzibar, the Nineteenth century cathedral is one of the island’s leading tourist attractions. It also hosted Dr. Rowan Williams and the primates of the Anglican Communion in 2007.
The Muslim Mobilization and Propagation Group (UAMSHO) has called for the dissolution of the United Republic of Tanzania and the creation of an Islamist state for the island of Zanzibar. UAMSHO cadres have also demanded the expulsion of Zanzibar’s Christians, saying they have no place on the island.
UAMSHO has also been suspected of involvement in a series of shootings and acid attacks on Christians, as well as arson attacks on rural churches on the island.
In August 2013 Islamist terrorists attacked two British teenagers, throwing acid on the girls as they were walking in the Shangani section of Stone Town, the island’s capital. A Roman Catholic priest was severely injured in last September after terrorists threw acid in his face while he was walking along a busy street in the town’s commercial district.
A Catholic priest was shot to death while standing at the doorstep of his church in Zanzibar on 17 Feb 2013, while on Christmas Day gunmen shot and seriously wounded a Catholic priest as he was returning home from services.
Today’s bomb attack on Christ Church Cathedral comes amidst the reconstruction of the coral stone Gothic cathedral. Founded in 1873 on the site of Zanzibar’s old slave market, with the altar located on the spot of the slave market’s whipping post, the church was consecrated in 1903.
In October 2013 the EU awarded a grant to the cathedral to build a heritage and education center on the cathedral’s precincts to commemorate the abolition of slavery.
The EU grant to the cathedral had been given to foster interfaith relations between the majority Muslim population and the Christian minority.
“Our hope is that the preservation and promotion of this historical site in Zanzibar will fuel a sense of common belonging for the Zanzibari people and of ownership of their cultural heritage; it should contribute to building national identity in the diversity, tolerance and solidarity between faiths, communities and peoples.” said the EU Ambassador to Tanzania, Filiberto Ceriani Sebregondi last year.