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Priest recounts how he escaped terror attack

COUNTIES
By - | May 15th 2013

By PETER OCHIENG

A Catholic priest who survived the bombing of a church in the Tanzanian northern city of Arusha on May 5 has recounted the terrifying experience.

Father Samy Amaldoss was caught up in the attack at St Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Olasti, a suburb of Arusha.

But he was lucky to escape unscathed during the incident that left three people dead and at least 30 others injured. Some victims are still admitted to hospitals.

Amaldoss, who is now the priest in charge at the Langas Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Eldoret, arrived in Tanzania at the weekend for the official opening of the church that is now a fully-fledged diocese.

He served as a priest in the church when it was still a parish before he was transferred to Eldoret.

“There were over 30 priests from various countries also invited to attend the celebrations that were presided over by the Vatican’s ambassador to Tanzania, Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla,” Amaldoss told The Standard.

The priest recalled how the colourful ceremony had kicked off before the terror attack.

“Nothing had prepared us for the pandemonium that later ensued. The church choir was still entertaining the congregation when the bomb went off,” he said.

He added that there was a loud bang a few metres to the church entrance where the pope’s representative was to cut a tape to officially open the church.

“We were not far from it. The loud bang was deafening. It immediately halted everything including the choir and pandemonium followed,” said the cleric.

Christians and clerics took cover fearing for their lives as screams rent the air.

“We all took cover and those left at the grounds were the injured, some of who died there. One person was trampled to death during the melee,” added Amaldoss.

 He added: “When we later regrouped after the attack, we found the body of a child lying on the ground in a pool of blood.”

Amaldoss said 70 people were injured and rushed to two hospitals, St Elizabeth and Meru hospital in Arusha, Tanzania.

“Unfortunately two bomb victims were later pronounced dead in the hospital,” he added.

Father Amaldoss added that quick response from Tanzania police officers and Red Cross personnel averted more deaths and led to the arrest of some of the terrorists.

“It did not take long. They were swift and police managed to arrest one of the attackers as he fled the church while the Red Cross personnel immediately evacuated the injured,” he said.

The priest said if the function was held inside the church, there would have been many casualties.

“We thank God the event was held outside thus minimising the tragedy. If we were all crammed in the church, we would be talking a different story today,” he added.

Following the harrowing ordeal, Amaldoss extols the importance of prayer before venturing out.

“Praying should not be taken for granted. When we ask for protection, it is for times like that,” he added.

Speaking to the Langas faithful last Sunday, the priest explained that he had switched his phone off before the function, which caused panic among people who know him following news of the attack.

“After the bomb, it was total confusion and I did not remember to switch my phone on for some days as we recovered from the shock,” he said as he apologised for causing apprehension.

Sisters at the church Maria Bakhita and Anderson Sungu said they had feared for the worst after they failed to reach the priest for three days.

Bakhita told The Standard they severally tried to call the priest to establish his whereabouts in vain.

“We were shocked and expected the worst news from Tanzania. But God is good. He kept him safe and now he is back in one piece,” they said.

Tanzania police have arrested at least nine suspects including four Saudi Arabian nationals in connection with the bombing.

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