One dead as Sri Lanka town gripped by another bout of anti-Muslim violence
At least one person was killed Monday amid renewed anti-Muslim violence in a Sri Lankan town targeted during last month’s Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.
Police said 45-year-old Fauzul Amir was slashed with a sword as mobs attacked at least five mosques, causing damage and allegedly burning a Koran, in the town of Negombo, north of the capital Colombo. Amir later died in hospital.
A nationwide curfew was instituted following the violence, which comes after shops and businesses owned by Muslims were attacked last week in Negombo, which has a large Christian community.
More than 100 members of that community were killed after a suicide bomber walked into Negombo’s St. Sebastian’s Church on Easter Sunday. The National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) Islamist extremist group, which aligned itself with ISIS, has been blamed for the attacks.
Leaders of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, many of whom attempted to warn the authorities about some of the bombers ahead of the attacks, were bracing for a backlash following the bombings.
“We are very scared that there is going to be a backlash,” Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told CNN in the days after the Easter Sunday attacks. “It can happen anytime.”
Army and police units were deployed to mosques and other houses of worship around Sri Lanka in the wake of the bombings, and strict curfews were also imposed, containing any immediate backlash.
As restrictions have begun to lift, however, there is evidence that the anger and frustration over the attacks, which the government has admitted to ignoring repeated warnings about, has not dissipated.
A partial social media was reimposed this week following the attacks in Negombo. Nalaka Kaluwewa, director general of the country’s Department of Government Information, said WhatsApp, Facebook and other platforms had been blocked to prevent “social unrest via hate messages and false information.”
Many Sri Lankans and internet analysts criticized a similar ban imposed after Easter Sunday, which they said prevented people from accessing information and, contrary to the government’s claims, actually exacerbated the spread of fake news and malicious rumors.
Christian leaders have urged their followers not to attack Muslims, with whom they have typically had strong relations, both religions being tiny minorities facing pressure from the Buddhist majority.
“Some parties are trying to instigate communal hatred to create religious clashes,” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, said last week. “I earnestly request the Catholics not to raise a hand against the Muslims. The Muslims are not behind this incident. Those behind this attack are misguided persons who are being manipulated by international forces to realize their political aims. According to the teachings of our religion, we should not harm anyone.”