- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — The United States and Tanzania are locked in an uneasy embrace as they attempt to combat terrorism on Africa’s east coast, with the Bush administration persistently fingering the country as a potential al Qaeda hide-out.

Since the August 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam that killed 11 persons — one that coincided with a similar attack on the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed 213 — the East African nation has drawn the careful scrutiny of American antiterrorism policy.

But the Tanzanians, eager to avoid the stigma of being perceived as a terrorist haven, have only haltingly cooperated with American efforts, Bush administration officials say.

“The Tanzanians see terrorism as an international issue, not a domestic one, because most terrorists are imported,” said one Western diplomat who requested anonymity. “The problem with that argument is that Tanzania is a permissive environment.”

The nation of 36 million people is about 35 percent Muslim. Islam is most predominant along its coast, notably on the island of Zanzibar popular with tourists. The United States strongly suspects that al Qaeda operatives move easily in the region, either from Somalia into neighboring states such as Kenya or Tanzania.

However, Tanzania’s Muslims tend not to be radical, and despite a fairly even number of Muslims and Christians, political parties have not formed along religious lines.

On Jan. 22, the Treasury Department named the Tanzanian branch of a Saudi Arabian charity, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, as a crucial al Qaeda way station. The department said that officials of the group helped plan the 1998 embassy bombings, and that foundation agents made plans for attacks against hotels frequented by Western tourists on Zanzibar.

Tanzanian officials are reluctant to go on the record about any terrorist threat or about Al-Haramain, and four spokesmen declined to comment on the Treasury Department’s actions.

According to local press reports, Tanzanians believe they dealt with the problem last year by expelling the foundation’s senior officials, including a Tunisian and a Yemenite national, who were guilty of various violations of the country’s immigration laws. The schools and mosques that the charity built and operated in Tanzania have been handed over to Tanzanians, said Hassan Chizenga, the secretary of the Ulema Council of Tanzania, an organization of religious scholars.

“They have been taken out of the country,” said Mr. Chizenga, who added that his organization had no link to Al-Haramain. “They left the schools to Tanzanians to run.”

Zanzibar, which is almost wholly dependent on the tourists who come for its pristine beaches, was the subject of American and British travel warnings in January 2003. The Treasury Department revealed on Jan. 22 that the activities of Al-Haramain were the reason for the warning. As a result, the attacks were foiled by local police, it said.

Vuai Mohammed, executive secretary of Zanzibar’s Commission on Tourism, complains bitterly that the island is being targeted unfairly by the United States. The number of tourists from Britain dropped by half last year because of the travel warnings.

“What is it they want us to do?” Mr. Mohammed said. “There hasn’t been a single incident on Zanzibar.”

He acknowledged that some Muslims had threatened several bars and restaurants on Zanzibar with attacks if they did not stop serving alcohol. But he blamed the incidents on “burglars” who wrapped themselves in the mantle of Islam but were really common criminals.

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