Explosives found at blast house
Published 30/01/2013 | 19:10
Police in Zimbabwe say that they have found traces of explosives at a tribal sorcerer's house where a massive blast killed six people and damaged 12 nearby buildings.
Police official Charity Charamba said the sorcerer and assistants, one of them a former police officer, were suspected of trying to extract a compound of mercury sometimes used in the manufacture of explosive materials.
Five people, including the sorcerer, often referred to in the West as a witch-doctor, died instantly in the blast in a township outside Harare on January 21 and the sixth died later. Neighbours at first feared the explosion was a traditional ritual to produce a deadly lightning bolt meant to strike down enemies or evil spirits.
Ms Charamba said mercury compounds known locally as "red mercury" are often thought to fetch huge prices on illegal markets.
In recent months, police have been investigating three cases of people attempting to open the casing of explosive devices. In one, a man lost fingers when a grenade he was tampering with exploded. In eastern Zimbabwe, two suspects were arrested trying to sell mortar bombs.
"Those selling were claiming that the mortar bomb contains mercury which fetches a lot of money on the black market and they can become millionaires overnight. Possession of explosives is illegal and they are highly dangerous," Ms Charamba said.
Many impoverished Zimbabweans believe "red mercury", which is not an accurate scientific term for explosive mercury derivatives, can sell for up to 300,000 US dollars (£190,000) a kilo (2.2lb).
After the explosion in Chitungwiza, 15 miles (25km) south of Harare, panicked neighbours spread coarse salt around the site, an ancient tribal remedy to ward off avenging spirits.
Zimbabwe's local media has conjured with a range of theories on the potency of traditional African sorcery since the township explosion.
A survivor claimed it was an exorcism gone wrong. Clara Banda told reporters she was part of a group of tribal healers tasked with destroying a mystical creature, commonly known as a goblin, used to enhance the fortunes of the businessman who died at the scene.
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