Dar es Salaam. The nation was yesterday united in mourning the eight police officers who were shot dead by unidentified people at a Thursday night ambush in Kibiti District.
The killing of the police officers is the highest fatality in one incident in recent history and leaves many questions unanswered about the motive and identity of those behind the attack.
A cross-section of leaders and ordinary citizens said the killed officers were heroes who died protecting them, demanding firm action from the government to assure safety to all.
Through statements and postings on social media, they were united in calls for police to thoroughly investigate the activities of the group. They feel police have not acted swiftly to get to get to the bottom of the matter to determine the real intentions of the criminals.
The commissioner of police in charge of operations and training, Mr Nsato Mssanzya, yesterday said they killed four suspects who were linked to the Thursday night ambush shortly after.
Mr Mssanya told journalists at the police headquarters, said their operation following the 6.15pm attack led to the recovery of an four guns, including two belonging to the killed policemen.
Those killed were an assistant inspector of police, a corporal and six constables. They were returning to camp after a daylong shift. Their camp is 100km from Dar es Salaam and was established in response to activities linked to a shadowy group along the coast that has mounted sporadic attacks on security personnel and local leaders.
The fatal ambush at Mkengeni Village along the Dar es Salaam-Lindi road comes in the wake of killings of local government leaders and attacks against the police in Coast Region since last year.
Some 11 local government leaders have been shot dead recently by people riding on motorcycles and who did not steal anything from those targeted. Police last week shot dead three people dressed as women when they defied orders to stop at a roadblock in Lindi. They were riding on a motorcycle.
Like in past attacks, including those in Mbagala, Vikindu and Mbande near Dar es Salaam – where seven police officers lost their lives, Mr Mssanzya affirmed yesterday that the attacks were of a criminal nature and not linked to terrorism.
“This is a group of criminals and not terrorists. Terrorism is a big thing and there is nothing like that in Tanzania,” declared Mr Mssanzya who said a far-reaching operation was underway in Kibiti to flush out the suspects.
But some people have linked police attacks, including several reported in Tanga over the last two years to terror cells and point to the fact that the attackers often left hints to suggest they were not normal criminals.
Mr Mssanzya said the suspects escaped with seven loaded guns snatched from the dead policemen. One of the officers, however, survived the ambush with a bullet wound in the arm. He was treated and discharged yesterday.
Mr Mssanzya said an intensive operation was underway to flush out the assailants and recover the missing guns and ammunition. “They attacked police and provoked their fury; they are playing with fire.”
He said the operation will deliver justice and revenge for the spilled blood of the officers.
He announced that bodaboda operations would cease from 6pm to 6am. The operation is in Mkuranga, Kibiti and Rufiji districts.
He pleaded with the public to help police with information that would help them in their operation.
“More than 10 police officers have been killed in difference incidents around Coast Region. We have had enough. We are not going to spare anybody involved in such criminal activities. We will follow them wherever they are, we will deal with them fully, and no one will be spared.”
He told journalists that those killed in response to the police attack were found at their hideout deep in the surrounding forests. Reports say a number of people were also being held for questioning.
Asked why police had not declared the region a special operation zone, Mr Mssanzya said it did not warrant so.
He blamed the frequent raids to the remoteness of the area and long distances without human settlements.