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Two British teen girls to fly home after Zanzibar acid attack


Two young British women who suffered an acid attack on the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar, the first such assault against foreigners in the popular tourist destination, were due to fly home late on Thursday.

On Wednesday evening two men on a moped threw the acid at the 18-year-old women, splashing their faces and chests as they strolled through the streets of Stone Town, the historical centre of the capital of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian archipelago.

The victims, Katie Gee and Kirstie Trup, both from London, were working as volunteer teachers in a Zanzibar school as part a three-week programme.

"We can now confirm that both individuals are scheduled to be repatriated to the UK. They are scheduled to leave Tanzania later this (Thursday) evening," i-to-i Travel, the Britain-based gap year company that organised the placement, said in a statement.

Zanzibar's deputy police chief Mkadam Khamis said a manhunt was underway for the unknown attackers and asked the public to help identify them.

Outside Trup's London home, a family friend read out a statement on behalf of the women's mothers Rochelle Trup and Nicky Gee.

"Both families are extremely upset and distressed at this completely unprovoked attack on their lovely daughters, who had only gone to Zanzibar with good intention.

"We understand that they will be flying home overnight. We appreciate all the interest and support we have received from the media but we would ask that we are left alone until we have been reunited with our daughters."

The women were flown to Tanzania's economic capital Dar es Salaam for treatment, where hospital staff said their injuries were relatively minor and suggested the liquid thrown at them may have been diluted acid.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete visited the two young women at the Aga Khan hospital, where he called the attack "shameful" and said it "tarnished the image" of his country.

He ordered the security forces to step up their investigation and find the culprits.

The attack came at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as people began to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

"The motive... has not been established. Investigations are on until we apprehend the criminals," Khamis said.

Britain's Foreign Office said they were "providing consular assistance" to the women, who had just finished their school-leaving exams.

Tourism is the main foreign currency earner for Zanzibar, famed for its white-sand beaches and historical buildings in Stone Town, listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

"It may threaten tourists," said Abdul Samad, chairman of the Zanzibar Association for Tourism Investors.

Tensions between the majority Muslim population and Christians on the archipelago -- some three percent of the 1.2 million people on the islands -- have been on the increase in recent years, as well as in mainland Tanzania.

In Tanzania, where Muslims and Christians each make up around a third of the population, the communities traditionally live peacefully side-by-side.

In Zanzibar, some more conservative elements of the Muslim community object to foreign tourists who wear revealing clothes, as well as bars selling alcohol.

There have been a series of attacks on the archipelago, including an acid attack on a Muslim cleric in November, and the shooting death of a Catholic priest in February.

In December another priest was shot and wounded.

Two years ago, youths hurled petrol bombs into several bars in Zanzibar in protest at the sale of alcohol.

In Tanzania, a bomb blast at a church mass in the northern town of Arusha in May -- described as an "act of terrorism" by Kikwete -- killed three people and wounded more than 60.

No group has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.

In March last year followers of controversial Muslim cleric Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda were jailed over an October riot in Dar es Salaam, sparked by rumours that a 12-year-old boy at a Christian school had urinated on a copy of the Koran.