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Former Tampa Bay area priest shot to death in Tanzania

A Catholic priest who formerly served at parishes in Spring Hill and Crystal River was shot to death Sunday at a church in Tanzania in what authorities there said may have been the work of al-Qaida terrorists.

The Rev. Evaristus Mushi was killed Sunday morning as he arrived to conduct mass at a church in the island province of Zanzibar. Two men riding a Vespa motorcycle approached the priest and blocked him from entering the church before shooting him in the head, according to Tanzanian police.

Later that day, police arrested three men near the church whom they suspect were responsible for the killing, according to African news accounts. The men were not identified, but a police spokesman told African news agency Sabahi that the men might have been acting on orders from the terrorist group al-Qaida. An official investigation of the incident, which included intelligence officers from outside Tanzania, was still ongoing.

Mushi, 56, had been a priest for 27 years. He came to the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 2001 and was assigned to St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish in Spring Hill, the diocese reported. Later that year he completed graduate studies with Duquesne University and moved to St. Benedict Parish in Crystal River, where he served for three years. During that time, Mushi led many of the children's masses at Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Lecanto.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg posted a memorial message late Tuesday on its Facebook and Twitter pages. "Please remember Father Mushi, his family, and the faithful of Zanzibar in your prayers," the message read. "Pray also for the protection of our Catholic priests and nuns throughout the world in these very troubling times."

The priest's shooting was the third attack on a religious leader in recent months in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island off the Tanzanian coast. On Christmas Day, another Catholic priest was shot and seriously injured. A month earlier, attackers threw acid on a local Islamic cleric.

The majority of Zanzibar's 1.2 million residents are Muslim. A small minority — estimated to be about 3 percent — are Christian.

Information from the Daily Telegraph (London), Tanzania Daily News and Sabahi news agency was used in this report.

Former Tampa Bay area priest shot to death in Tanzania 02/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 9:45pm]
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