Friday, August 09, 2013

UK teenagers attacked with acid in Zanzibar

There has been shock and condemnation following the disturbing acid attack on two British teenagers in Zanzibar this week.

The pair were attacked by two men on a motorcycle as they walked through the historic capital Stone Town on the east African island of Zanzibar on Wednesday night. The acid splashed over their faces, chests, backs and hands.

Katie Gee and Kirstie Trup, both 18, had been working as charity volunteer teachers on the Muslim island and the attack came in the last week of their trip.

Similar attacks

While the attack has been described as an isolated incident there have been similar attacks in the past. CNN reported that a shopkeeper had also been subjected to a similar attack for selling western goods that were deemed "un-Islamic". There have also been several protests in the past year where supporters of an Islamic group have clashed with police [Islam in Zanzibar]. 

The attack came at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as people began to celebrate the Eid holiday. Both young women were fully aware of the customs of a Muslim country and how to behave, according to friends and family.

Islamic sensitivities

However, from a tweet posted by in July it was clear that some inhabitants were more sensitive to foreigners' behaviour than others. " A Muslim woman just hit me in the street for singing on Ramadan. Is that normal," Katie Gee wrote. The post has since been deleted from her Twitter account.

According to Bashir Ismail, of Art in Tanzania, the two women were teaching at St. Monica nursery school, linked to the Catholic church. The Daily Telegraph also reported that the pair had argued with a nearby shop owner a few days before the acid attack when they went for groceries.

Whether their behaviour, or their links to Catholic school had any bearing on the attack is as yet unclear, however Ismail said the motorcyclists appeared to target the women specifically. "The two attackers passed by several white tourists in the area and threw acid after reaching closer to them which raises suspicion of a planned attack," he said.

However, Deputy Police Commissioner Mkadam Khamis told Sky News that the two Britons were not the intended targets and that the motorcyclists had missed their actual intended target of a nearby man.

The Zanzibar authorities were swift to condemn the attack, saying that it was "shameful" and that such acts would only harm the small island's economy. The island depends heavily on tourism and the high profile reporting of the attack as well as the way it was carried out could be devastating to Tanzania's economy as a whole.

Families' shock

Katie Gee's father Jeremy spoke of the family's shock and devastation after seeing photographs of her injuries, describing them as "absolutely horrendous".

"The level of the burns are beyond imagination," he told reporters. Kirstie Trup's father Marc, 51, a multi-millionaire dental surgeon and property developer, told reporters how a passer-by had come to the girls' assistance following the acid attack and that he had spoken to Kristie shortly after saying she was "inconsolable".

Injuries "quite mild"

Following the attack the girls were flown to hospital in Dar es Salaam on the Tanzania mainland where they were treated for their injuries. As the pair returned to the UK, doctors said that the damage from the acid may not be as serious as first thought and that it may not have penetrated as deeply as first believed.

"We suspect that whatever the liquid was, it was not true acid, it may have been diluted," one of the doctors at the Aga Khan Hospital said. "They have burns on their hands from wiping the liquid off. They have minor injuries on their chests and their necks. Considering it could have been very bad, what they have is quite mild. They were shocked, of course, but they are not feeling very bad."

Meanwhile the government has put up a $6000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the two attackers.

More reports: BBC / ITN / Sky News / CNN / Telegraph / Guardian / D Mail

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