The arrest of 11 al-Shabaab suspects undergoing military training in the Mtwara region earlier this month has raised concerns among security analysts and officials that the militant group is attempting to exploit local grievances in Tanzania in an effort to expand its area of influence.
The suspects were arrested at Makolionga Mountain in Nanyumbu District on October 7th and were found in possession of firearms, machetes and 25 DVDs containing al-Shabaab training manuals, according to Mtwara Regional Police Commander Zelothe Stephen.
“One of the DVDs they were found with contains a programme named Zinduka Zanzibar,” he told Sabahi, which means “Wake up Zanzibar”. “It teaches how to kill quickly and to train militia. Other [DVDs] contain terrorism training related to al-Shabaab.”
Local authorities are analysing the evidence and looking for other suspects in the area with the help of intelligence agents from police headquarters in Dar es Salaam, Stephen said.
He named 39-year-old Mohammed Makande as the ring leader of the arrested suspects. The other suspects were identified by Stephen as: Said Mawazo (20), Ismail Chande (18), Abdallah Hamisi (32), Ramadhani Rajabu (26), Salum Wadi (38), Hassan Omary (39), Fadhili Rajabu (20), Abbas Muhidini (32), Issa Abeid (21) and Rashid Ismail (27).
A worrisome development
Security analysts say the government must improve efforts to address local grievances to curtail radicalisation and the outbreak of violence in areas already prone to instability.
Gideon Shoo, a veteran journalist and owner of G&S Media Consultants, said al-Shabaab was specifically targeting Mtwara and Zanzibar in order to take advantage of grievances that residents might have against the government.
“Everyone knows the fragility in Mtwara in relation to gas extraction, and look at what is happening in Zanzibar with acid attacks,” Shoo told Sabahi. “It is no secret that al-Shabaab is planning to use the discontent in those two areas as an entry point into Tanzania.”
Shoo said the Tanzanian government should talk to Zanzibaris to reach an amicable and definitive solution regarding grievances related to their stake in the union government.
Likewise, he said, the government should engage Mtwara residents and provide more information about the potential benefits from transporting gas from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam, which has been the central cause of violence and unrest in the region earlier this year.
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Oswald Kasaizi, executive director of Relief to Development Society, a non-governmental organisation that provides aid to communities in conflict-prone areas, said the news of al-Shabaab suspects training in Tanzania is a worrisome development.
“The fact that these people have managed to get together and start training on our land is a very bad sign,” he said.
Kasaizi said security forces should take serious note about al-Shabaab’s training manuals aimed at inciting Zanzibaris because the militant group is using areas already experiencing conflict as fertile ground for their operations.
“Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda are now using Zanzibar as a stepping stone,” he told Sabahi. “Their target is the whole country of Tanzania and the African continent at large. This is the biggest threat ever. Training on our land proves they are here.”
Kasaizi blamed the lax security system in the country for allowing al-Shabaab elements establish a training camp on Tanzanian soil for the first time.
“Our security forces have shown unacceptable level of negligence which might cost our nation dearly,” he said.
Not an isolated incident
Director of Criminal Investigations Robert Manumba said the authorities are not taking the threat of terrorism lightly and are working hard to dismantle terror groups and their networks.
“We had leads about al-Shabaab’s presence and we were closely monitoring them,” he told Sabahi.
“What happened in Mtwara it is not an isolated incident,” he said. “It is happening the same in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and so many other countries, but whenever it happens we share the information in a way to monitor the trend and find the solution.”
“We are regularly exchanging security information regionally and internationally,” Manumba said.
This is in addition to the government’s Operation Kimbunga, which aims to repatriate illegal immigrants in Tanzania.
“Between September 10th and October 10th we managed to return home more than 22,000 illegal people,” he said, adding that according to police intelligence, most of those immigrants were engaged in illegal activities.
Manumba thanked Mtwara residents for tipping off the police about the terrorism suspects and asked Tanzanians to continue to report anything suspicious to the authorities to ensure security.
Reinstating the ten-cell system
Kitunda ward council member Israel Kimune urged the government to reinstate the ten-cell system that was nationally mandated during former President Julius Nyerere’s administration.
Under the system, every ten houses in a neighbourhood are classified as a cell with a leader responsible for identifying and registering everyone in his or her cell, even visitors and their length of stay.
“I understand the idea of the ten-cell [system] originated from [the ruling party] Chama Cha Mapinduzi, hence opposition followers felt uncomfortable with it and it was legally scrapped off, but we made a big mistake,” Kimune told Sabahi. “It has to be restored for security interests.”
Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Pereira Ame Silima said the government was considering reinstating the system.
“It performed well during the one party system but it was watered down after the arrival of multi-party politics,” Silima said October 11th in an interview with the government-run Daily News.
Silima said 8,000 police officers have been deployed countrywide to ensure that community policing is improved. “Plans are also under way to see to it that every division has a police inspector overseeing it, unlike now where an inspector is assigned at district level,” he said.