Arsonists used gasoline as an accelerant to ensure that seven churches in northwestern Tanzania were destroyed in attacks on Sept. 22 and Sept. 27. Muslim extremists have repeatedly threatened Christians in the Bukoba district and want to “reduce” the number of churches in the area, says one pastor.
Attackers set fire to three churches over two-hours on Sept. 22 in Kashfa village. Four mainline churches were also set alight just five days later on Sunday, Sept. 27.
One church was partially saved when a guard stationed outside the 170-member Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) heard a petrol bomb explode mid-morning. He was able to put out the fire before it could spread. However, the church lost its entire stage as well as musical instruments.
Two other churches burned on the same night were completely gutted. Pastor Vedasto Athanas of Living Water International Church stated that his 70-member church lost everything, including musical instruments and all of their chairs. The 35-member Evangelical Assemblies of God Tanzania church was also burned.
A VOM contact reported that this is the third arson attack that LWI church has suffered. Attacks on the church occurred earlier this year on April 4 and two years ago on Sept. 27, 2013. Both times, the church was ready to replace their tin structure with a concrete building, but the fires forced them to start over.
At least seven suspects in the Sept. 22 attacks are being held by authorities in Tanzania, who stated that a reward would be offered to anyone who gave information leading to the arrests of suspects.
Church leaders say that one possible motive behind the arson attacks may be linked to tensions between Muslims and Christians in regards to animal slaughter. Muslim extremists in the region believe that it is forbidden for non-Muslims to slaughter animals, and have attempted to force Christians to buy their meat only from Muslims. Being forced to pay for meat-slaughtering is a burden on poor believers.
Another Christian leader suggests that local Muslim authorities are attempting to reduce the spread of Christianity and church growth. When churches have sought permission to build, they are often prevented by authorities who state that the areas have been zoned as “residential areas.”