The most serious incident occurred on April 27 in the southeast town of Asasa in the Oromia region, when four people died in clashes after police arrested a Muslim preacher. The government said the preacher had been trying to instigate jihad. Earlier in April, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told parliament that an Al Qaeda cell containing "a few Salafist extremists" operated in the area, while at the beginning of May the government announced it deported two Arabs of unspecified nationalities for trying to incite violence outside Addis Ababa's largest mosque.
A focal point for the dispute has been at the community centered around the Awalia Mission School on the edge of the capital, where 50 Arabic teachers were removed via a letter from the Islamic council leaders, leading to the escalation of protests against the leaders' legitimacy and state interference.
The government has tightened security at mosques – it is difficult for Western journalist to report from those in the capital without police interference. The Ministry of Federal Affairs recently accused the protesters of being extremists engaged in violence and collaborating with foreign forces to instigate jihad.
The Ethiopian government has recently claimed that radicalism is growing in Ethiopia, citing austere Wahhabism promulgated by foreign preachers in mosques built by well-heeled Saudi organizations. Ahmedin Jebel, spokesman for a committee that says it's elected by Muslims to represent the movement, says these claims are way off the mark. Although there may be individual extremists, there are no communities sworn to conflict, he says. Conversely, according to Mr. Ahmedin, the government risks creating extremism where it doesn't exist with heavy-handed actions that many Muslims perceive as an attack on Islam.
"We are afraid that people will begin to fight back," if the indoctrination and smear campaigns continue, he says. "There is a concern that they may create more extremism than they fear."
Leaked US diplomatic cables from 2008 corroborate the Ethiopian government's concerns about a "growing Wahhabi influence." In the cables, American officials discuss programs to combat its influence, such as translating "The Place of Tolerance in Islam" – a book by American Muslim scholar Khaled Abou el Fadl – into local languages.