Tanga. A soldier was killed and police officers were seriously injured as security forces mounted a raid to flush out heavily-armed gangsters believed to be hiding in the Amboni caves in Karash bush.
Terror reigned in the suburbs as police and officers from the Tanzania Peoples’ Defence Forces (TPDF) engaged the armed group, which residents believe to be linked with the Al-Shabaab terror group.
Residents of Karasha told The Citizen on Sunday that sounds of heavy gunfire split the night and some residents fled their homes as the fight continued yesterday morning.
Word quickly spread connecting members of the group with Al-Shabaab but police dismiss them as simply thugs. The gang is also believed to be part of a group that last month robbed two police officers of their guns.
But the Director of Operations and Training at police headquarters, Mr Paul Chagonja, said police have yet to establish a link between the assailants and Al Shaabab.
“We have not identified them because they have escaped,” Mr Chagonja added, “so we do not have any idea whether or not they are associated with Al-Shaabab.”
According to Mr Chagonja, who travelled to Tanga to lead the operation, TPDF soldiers and police officers were injured in an exchange of fire with the gangsters. Journalists had a rough time trying to establish the identity of the soldiers admitted at Bombo Regional Hospital as security officers denied them access to the wards. A soldier is said to have died at the hospital yesterday afternoon.
From the early hours of yesterday, journalists here were in a frenzy going back and forth to the area where the security forces were working to subdue the thugs. They also shunted from the police boss’s office to the regional hospital to gather information without much success.
According to Mr Chagonja, security forces in the region conducted the joint operation following an incident last month when unknown assailants robbed police on patrol of two sub-machine guns in Tanga town. Intelligence reports suggested that several stolen guns and property were hidden in the caves.
The officers said the attackers, operating in one of the caves, opened fire when soldiers approached and there was a 15-minute exchange of fire that left six soldiers injured. Still, they managed to make their way into the caves--where they found a motorcycle, three bicycles, traditional weapons and what appeared to be explosives.
According to Mr Chagonja, the attackers escaped through an opening in the roof of the cave. He appealed to residents to report any injured and dead people in their neighbourhoods.
The officer, who arrived at the scene straight from a press conference in the afternoon, said the operation was still in progress and promised to give a full report as soon as it was over.
His idea of whom the joint force was fighting appears to differ from what Tanga residents reported. Mr Khalid Juma said he did not believe the police and TPDF could have deployed such firepower to confront armed robbers or thugs.
“The presence of senior members of the police force and the army suggests that the men they are fighting are not just thugs,” said Mr Juma.
Another resident, Mr Pascal Mbunga, said he was not satisfied with Mr Chagonja’s explanation and added that the people of Amboni are now living in fear. “We believe that the armed men are still here and we appeal to the police to tell us the truth,” he added.
Ms Rehema Juma, who fled her home, said she spent the night in fear of getting caught in the crossfire. “Many of us who live in Karasha have left our homes,” she added.