9 arrested after deadly Tanzanian church bombing

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Wounded churchgoers lie on the ground as Roman Catholic nuns run for cover after a blast at the St. Joseph Mfanyakazi Roman Catholic church in Arusha, Tanzania Sunday, May 5, 2013. Police said At least 30 people were injured, three seriously, in the suspected bomb attack AP FILE PHOTO

ARUSHA, Tanzania—Tanzania has arrested three more people over a deadly church bombing, bringing to nine the number of suspects detained, including several Saudis, President Jakaya Kikwete said Tuesday.

“Nine suspects have now been arrested,” Kikwete told reporters at Kilimanjaro International Airport near the northern city of Arusha where an attack on a church mass killed three on Sunday.

He was speaking after visiting some of the 64 wounded as well as the bereaved families.

Those arrested are five Tanzanians and four Saudis.

The bomb attack, which no group is known to have claimed yet, was described by Kikwete as “an act of terrorism” and was one of the worst such incidents to hit the east African country in years.

The president also urged Christians to continue attending church services every Sunday.

“If we don’t do so, we will have given victory to those who carried out the attack,” he said adding that the government will provide security around all places of worship.

None of those arrested have yet been charged, said Arusha’s governor Magesa Mulongo.

Officials have given no indication as to who might have carried out the attack, but tensions have been high between Tanzania’s Christian and Muslim communities in recent months.

“We must protect national unity, peace and tranquility of our country at any costs,” Internal Affairs Minister Emmanuel Nchimbi said Monday.

The blast occurred outside Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic church in Arusha, a town popular with tourists visiting the Serengeti national park and snowcapped Mount Kilimanjaro.

The newly built church, in the Olasti district on the outskirts of Arusha, was celebrating its first ever mass at the time of the attack. The building was packed and faithful were sitting on benches outside.

The Vatican’s ambassador to Tanzania, Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla, was attending mass at the church but was not harmed.

Kikwete, who said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the incident, called on people to remain calm while police investigated.

In February, a Catholic priest was shot dead outside his church on the largely Muslim archipelago of Zanzibar, the second such killing in recent months. A church was also set on fire on Zanzibar in February.

In March, 52 followers of controversial Muslim cleric Sheikh Issa Ponda were jailed for a year over October riots in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, sparked by rumours that a 12-year-old boy at a Christian school had urinated on a copy of the Koran.

Around half of Tanzanians are believed to be Christian, and around a third Muslim, although there are no official figures.

In neighboring Kenya—whose troops invaded southern Somalia in 2011, prompting warnings of revenge by the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents—several churches have been targeted in attacks similar to the Arusha blast.

While Tanzania does not have troops in Somalia, it is home to Islamist groups connected to radical groups in the wider region including the Shebab, according to United Nations experts.

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