Chaos reigned in Zanzibar on Wednesday as protests mounted over the “disappearance” of Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed, a religious leader said to have gone missing the previous night.
Shots were fired in the air in the Darajani area of Zanzibar town as police tried to disperse groups of people who were throwing stones and burning tyres.
According to some reports, the angry crowd invaded an office belonging to the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
Bars and cars were burnt down before police dispersed the mob. Two people were reportedly arrested in connection with the chaos.
Police have denied having arrested Sheikh Ahmed, who leads a group that is demanding that Zanzibar secedes from the mainland.
Sheikh Ahmed’s whereabouts were still unknown as we went to press.
The group, called Uamsho, has been associated with earlier chaos that resulted in the burning down of some churches in Zanzibar.
Zanzibari Police Commissioner Mussa Ali Mussa said his officers were investigating the disappearance of Sheikh Ahmed and hinted that the police believe the Sheikh is in hiding.
“We are investigating the matter surrounding his disappearance and the reasons for the chaos,” Mr Mussa said. “We will not hesitate to arrest all those concerned.”
In Dar es Salaam, an agitated crowd surrounded the central police station in the city centre demanding the release of Sheikh Issa Ponda, who had been arrested the previous night.
Police dispersed the crowd that surrounded the central police station, which was being guarded by heavily armed police officers as we went to press.
Sheikh Ponda, the secretary-general of the Council of Islamic Organisation, was arrested on Tuesday night in connection with violation of peace and incitement to chaos in Dar es Salaam.
Sheikh Ponda is alleged to have led his followers in an attack on property belonging to the Agritanza Company located at Chang’ombe area in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday.
He has accused the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata) of selling plots belonging to the council to private companies and individuals and has publicly demanded the resignation of Chief Mufti Shaaban Simba for allegedly failing to protect Bakwata property.
According to Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander Suleiman Kova, Sheikh Ponda led his followers in the raid claiming that they were recovering Muslim property that Bakwata has auctioned illegally.
Mr Kova told journalists that early investigations indicated that the plot was legally sold by Bakwata to Agritanza and title deed No.93773 was issued to the company by the Ministry of Land after the deal was sealed.
“Bakwata leaders have submitted evidence that proved Agritanza as the legal owner of that plot,” said Commander Kova, adding that those who launched an assault on the plot were trespassing.
Thirty-eight other people, seven of them women, were arrested in connection with the invasion of the property and were still being held by the police.
Weapons and construction equipment were found in the property during the 90-minute police operation that was conducted in the night. They included knives, axes and pangas.
Mr Kova said Sheikh Ponda has been leading his followers, under the umbrella of the Council of Islamic Organisation, in staging illegal demonstrations that have threatened bloodshed countrywide.
According to the high level policeman, the institution that the victim leads is not legally registered.
He accused the members of sedition by virtue of conducting an illegal demonstration recently that led to the destruction of more than three churches along with property and vehicles.
Commander Kova said an investigation of the 39 people arrested, including Sheikh Ponda, is on.
They are expected to appear in court after the government prosecutor approves the charges.