Hardly any country in the world remained untouched by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 and Tanzania has been no exception. President Mkapa immediately sent Tanzania’s condolences to President Bush who replied on September 21: “On behalf of the American people I am grateful to you and the people of Tanzania for your kind expressions of condolence and concern …… ” Tanzania had been itself one of the first targets of Al Qaeda terrorism when the American Embassy was blown up with the death of 12 people on August 7 1998.
Signs of Muslim militancy have been growing gradually for several years in various parts of Tanzania, although they are still on a very small scale. There have been many reports in the local press of such militancy:
In mid-August a certain Rajabu Dibagulu was jailed for 18 months in Morogoro for offending the Christian community by issuing the inflammatory statement ‘Jesus is not God’. On August 24 groups of Muslims took to the streets of Dar es Salaam to protest just before a High Court judge declared the sentence invalid and released the prisoner. On September 1 there was a dispute at the Kwa Mtoro Mosque following an invasion by militant youths disputing its ownership. This followed threats by Muslim activists that they would invade churches when the government banned a demonstration they wanted to hold.
The Guardian reported that the police believed that small bomb explosions at the CCM subhead office and a CCM branch office at Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam were due to Muslim radicals. 17 people were arrested. “The fight has just begun” President Mkapa said on August 30 when he visited the affected CCM party offices. “We are hunting them down” he said.
After the New York events Majira reported (September 14) that, while watching the dramatic images on TV some people in Zanzibar were seen celebrating. Others were wearing American T-shirts indicating their support for the victims. But at the famous joint known as Joe’s Corner in Mkunazini, youths were dancing and cheering. One of them was heard saying, “Let the international policemen also have a taste of terrorism, after all Palestinians suffers from it everyday.”
On October 19 thousands of Muslims held a peaceful demonstration in Dar es Salaam to condemn US attacks on Afghanistan. They held placards praising Osama bin Laden and torched American flags. Mwananchi reported that there was a high security alert at the Bugando Hospital in Mwanza after the Director received a letter from the ‘Osama bin Laden Defence Squad’ saying that a bomb would go off on 10 October between 11 a.m. and 12 noon. There was no bomb. Another bomb scare was raised at a secondary school in Tanga when a telephone call was received from a ‘Bin Laden group.’ The police arrested some people for distributing seditious photographs of President Bush and bin Laden. Clerics at the Tungi Mosque in Temeke, Dar es Salaam were told, at a meeting to show solidarity with the Taliban, to prepare for the holy war (Jihad) declared by Afghanistan. One preacher, Sheikh Musa Kileo, quoted verses from the Koran saying that Islam was not a pacifist religion, nor a ‘turnthe-other-cheek’ religion. He asked who was prepared to ‘die for Islam’ and many among the congregation lifted their fingers. Another cleric, Sheikh Musa bin Issa said it was the duty of a Muslim to defend a fellow Muslim “irrespective of whether he has committed any crime or not.” On September 28 a message, said to be from the head of Taliban, Mullah Mohamed Omar, was circulating in city mosques. Written in Arabic with a Swahili translation, it urged Muslims all over the world to be ready for Jihad (holy war) against the ‘crusade declared by Bush.’ Majira reported on September 24 that two Muslims had appeared in Tabora Magistrate’s Court for claiming that they supported Osama and could blow up the State House. They were found with audiocassettes attacking Christianity. The Guardian reported on October 10 that branches of the Cooperative and Rural Development Bank in Dar had had to close for the afternoon after alleged threats to blow up the building. A food vendor on the other side of the street complained that some of his customers had fled without paying for the food they had eaten when word went around that a bomb was about to explode.
Meanwhile at a meeting of the Ahmadia Muslims at Mnazi Mmoja, reported in Mtanzania, Vice President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein commended the sect for advocating tolerance and peace among the population. Inspector General of Police Omari Iddi Mahita, addressing the 70th Interpol General Assembly in Budapest, Hungary was quoted as saying that it was unfortunate that Tanzania was considered to have been hosting some terrorist elements unknowingly. Some of them had been involved in the bombing of the US Embassy. He said the Tanzania Police Force supported all strategies geared to bringing the terrorists to justice. The US had sent a list of 50 suspected terrorists, but Director of Criminal Investigations Adadi Rajab said that none of them was resident in the country. On November 26 the East African reported that Zanzibar-born Ahmed Gailani, (otherwise known as ‘Ahmed the Tanzanian’, ‘Foopie’, ‘Fupi’ and ‘Al Tanzani’) was on a US list of the ten most wanted terrorists in connection with the Dar embassy bombing. The Bank of Tanzania was said to have circulated the full list to banks and financial institutions with instructions to freeze their accounts. There were numerous anthrax scares in various parts of the country but tests all proved negative. Minister of Health Anna Abdallah reported that letters containing powder had been sent to the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner and the Regional Police Commander and to an independent television radio presenter. She said that the letters were being mailed by mischievous individuals seeking to instil fear in other people. Two University staff members received a letter with powder from an Afghan refugee in Pakistan who was requesting assistance because of the on-going war in his country. The Tanzania Postal Service equipped its staff with masks and gloves.
TANZANITE AND TERRORISM
More sinister than much of the above were indications that the blue gem ‘Tanzanite’, which is found only in Tanzania and represents a major export market, might have been at the centre of an international network of money-laundering in the interests of AI Qaeda. The British Journal ‘Africa Confidential’ and the US newspaper ‘The Wall Street Journal’, quoting from much of the testimony in the trial oft he perpetrators of the bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi (see Tanzanian Affairs No. 70) and other sources, described a widespread belief, not possible to confirm, that much of the Tanzanite goes from Mererani, near Arusha, where it is mined, first to Mombasa (a base for the 1998 US embassy bombers) without passing through customs, via Al Qaeda companies set up by a former personal secretary of Bin Laden (who is now serving a life sentence for organising the bombings) to Dubai, described as ‘a traditional smuggling port for India.’ Arusha Regional Mines Officer Alex Magyane was quoted as saying that links between Al Qaeda and the Tanzanite trade were continuing. Much of the trade was said to be conducted in the courtyard of a mosque at Mererani, near the prayer hall run by an Imam who recommended miners to sell to fellow Muslims, even if ‘infidels’ offered better prices. His Friday sermons were said to preach hatred of the USA and support for the Taliban regime. His followers called each other Jahidini (members of the Jihad). He had refused to discuss AI Qaeda but claimed that suicide attacks were legitimate in defending Islam.
In early December AFGEM, a South African company developing a large-scale Tanzanite mine in the Mererani mining area, expressed disappointment over the Wall Street Journal article because it had been skewed and it had been based largely on personal testimony, inferences and assumptions. The statement said that the mining and trading of Tanzanite was dominated by the Maasai, a small and peaceful tribe, rather than the Muslim fundamentalists referred to in the Wall Street Journal. The International Coloured Gemstone Association (ICA) agreed with AFGEM’s stand on the situation. In a press release issued on 27 November 2001, its President, Israel Z. Eliezri, voiced his frustration with the Journal for providing such a distorted picture of the trade. He noted that about 90% of the Tanzanite traders were members of the ICA, a reputable organisation committed to building up the integrity of the industry. The balance of non-ICA members were unlikely to be generating the millions of dollars mentioned by the Journal to fund AI Qaeda.
The Guardian (December 14) quoted the Nairobi-based ‘Africa Arise Worldwide’ as claiming that the AI Qaeda network was dealing with some rebel leaders in the Congo to smuggle diamonds and uranium to Dubai through Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. The Congo’s Ambassador to Tanzania was quoted as saying ”No one can wonder to hear that bin Laden is stretching his evil activities to the Congo where terrorists like him have been killing innocent people ….. for the past four years.”
COLLAPSE OF THE MARKET
The Tanzanian Mineral Dealers Association also denied that Al Qaeda was involved in the Tanzanite trade but some of the miners were quoted in the Guardian as saying that they had heard accounts of Tanzanite dealings with Al Qaeda members in the mid-1990’s. The Association complained that stories about Al Qaeda had damaged the US market for Tanzanite. Of some 80 mineral dealers in Mererani, most had had to close down as, after September 11, orders from America, which normally took 80% of the gems, collapsed and efforts to find new markets were only just beginning.
The results were said to be dire. The Guardian reported on November 22 that armed robbers in the Arusha Region had stolen some Shillings 300 million in just two weeks as a result of the drastic fall in prices of Tanzanite and the slump in the tourism sector. It quoted a figure of 100,000 young men having abandoned mining activities and losing their jobs in tourism. Over 1,100 tourists cancelled their reservation immediately after September 11. But Paris-based international gem dealer Paulo Fagundes told Tanzanian Affairs that he had been at the Munich Gem Fair in November and had not noticed any reduction in the price of Tanzanite on the European market. (For more details on what it is like to search for gemstones at Mererani see ‘Tanzania in the International Media’ below Editor).