JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Two British women volunteering as kindergarten teachers on the East African island of Zanzibar were attacked with acid on their way to a restaurant.
Kirstie Trup and Katie Gee, both 18, were accosted near the beach late Wednesday when two young men sped up on a moped and splashed acid on their faces, chests and hands, authorities said Thursday.
The pair had been in Zanzibar just over two weeks, teaching at a local Anglican kindergarten. They were flown to the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, for treatment.
Video aired on Sky News and other outlets showed the women wrapped in blankets as they arrived at a hospital there.
Medical staff later reported that the women’s injuries were not severe and that they had been released.
Trup’s father, Marc, told British media that attempts were being made to evacuate the two for treatment in London.
The motive for the attack was unknown, although there were reports that the assailants passed several groups of foreigners walking along a street in Stone Town, a popular tourist area, and may have targeted the women.
The travel company that arranged their trip, i-to-i Travel, issued a statement confirming the attack.
“All our efforts remain focused on ensuring they are supported whilst assisting them and their relatives with the arrangements for their return home,” said the company, which arranges travel for high school graduates and helps them find jobs teaching English abroad.
The attack, which follows a series of violent incidents targeting religious figures, could devastate the island’s main source of income, tourism. Zanzibar is known for its pristine beaches and for the narrow streets of Stone Town, which are lined with historic buildings.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete condemned the attack after visiting the women in hospital.
“It’s a shameful attack that tarnishes the image of our country,” Kikwete said, according to news reports. “I order security agents to speed up the investigations and arrest the suspects.”
Zanzibar Deputy Police Commissioner Mkadam Khamis asked that anyone with information about the attack come forward.
“Police in Zanzibar have launched a manhunt, and we ask for public assistance in identifying the attackers,” he said.
The attack came as the mainly Muslim population prepared to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday after the Ramadan month of fasting.
There were reports that the women had previously been involved in conflicts with locals.
A woman reportedly struck Gee in the face when she saw her singing during Ramadan on June 24. Although British media accounts said Gee had mentioned the incident on her Twitter account, no such comment could be found on her account late Thursday.
The young women were also said to have gotten into an argument with a shopkeeper.
Despite what some see as a rising tide of radical Islam in the region, Western tourists flocking to the island’s beaches and bars haven’t faced this kind of attack before. However, there have been attacks between Christians and Muslims on the island.
In February, a Catholic priest was shot to death outside his church. Last Christmas, gunmen shot and wounded a priest who was returning home after delivering a sermon. In November, attackers threw acid in the face of a Muslim cleric.
About 97% of the 1.2 million people in Zanzibar are Muslim, most of them living in poverty.