Muslims killed and injured in Sri Lanka

31st May 2019
Muslims killed and injured in Sri Lanka

The aftermath of a mob attack of Muslim-owned properties at Hettipola village in Kurunegala, Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 15. (Photo: Chamila Karunarathne/Anadolu Agency)

Aqila Mumthaz

A Muslim father of three was stabbed to death and at least 14 other Muslims were injured as rampaging Sinhalese Buddhist mobs torched, looted and vandalised Muslim-owned shops, properties and mosques across 24 towns in western Sri Lanka.

A nationwide curfew was imposed on May 14 after anti-Muslim riots broke out north of Colombo following the Easter Sunday attacks by Muslim terrorists on three churches and three luxury hotels that killed more than 250 people.

Anti-Muslim riots and religious tensions predate the Easter Sunday attacks. A series of riots targeting Muslims began in Ampara and Kandy Districts from February to March 2018. Buddhist hardliners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), have fuelled hostility towards Muslims in recent years.

According to local charity Zam Zam, over 540 Muslim-owned houses, shops, and mosques, as well as nearly 100 vehicles, have been targeted in the latest riots. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka said attacks had been reported in towns in North Western province, an area home to both Sinhalese Buddhist, and Muslims, who make up less than 10 per cent of the population.

On May 7, President Maithripala Sirisena sought international help to remove Afghan and Pakistani refugees from the country citing the state’s inability to ensure their security. Sirisena said there are over 1600 refugees in Sri Lanka from other countries.“They have been here for several years. The UN has taken care of their security. They have also taken care of their needs and informed us about their security,” said Sirisena.

A day before the curfew in the village of Kottramulla, Mohamed Salim Fowzul Ameer was stabbed and beaten by a mob with swords when he tried to protect his home. Rioters killed the 45-year old as he stood outside to defend his house and family. His wife, Fatima Jiffriya, found him bleeding on the ground.

“I opened the door to see my husband on the ground in a pool of blood, the police right in front and the mob running,” she told Reuters. “His heart was still beating hard, I took him into my lap and started to scream for help.” In the adjoining Gampaha district, men on motorbikes led arson attacks in the town of Minuwangoda.

Soon after that, Sirisena declared a State of Emergency, giving sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects for long periods of time. Curfews were placed and social media sites were banned. A burqa/niqab ban was implemented on April 28, a move backed on security grounds by the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, the top body of Islamic scholars on the island. “The ban is to ensure national security… No one should obscure their faces to make identification difficult,” said the President of the organisation.

Sri Lanka’s largest pasta factory, Diamond Pasta Private Ltd in Ballapana was burnt to the ground as Ali Fawmey watched his family factory burn down in the riots.

He told The Muslim News that the rioters came at around 6 pm in buses and tore down the gate before setting the factory on fire. “They attacked the factory in Minuwangoda which was burnt to the ground by around 500 Sinhalese Buddhist rioters.”

The rioters threw burning tyres into the facility which set the whole factory aflame. He said, the police “were unable to do anything due to the large number of rioters and had to wait for reinforcement. The army arrived at 9.30 pm and restored order.”

The firefighters who arrived later to the scene said they had run out of water and were unable to put out the flames.

Staff members in the building were trapped and locked themselves in. “Some staff escaped through the window by sliding down the drainage pipes. One of the staff members jumped 25 feet to the ground injuring himself.” He was later hospitalised from a broken his hip. Ali said, “This attack was not to avenge the attacks on churches as no Christians were involved in the attacks. How could it be, when 70 per cent of our employees are Sinhalese?”
“The attacks on Muslims by the Buddhists are not new,” he continued, “Islamophobic attacks have been taking place for years.”

The Abrar Mosque in the town of Kiniyama was attacked with glass left strewn on the floor along with copies of the Qur’an. A 34-year-old witness told Reuters that a mob of 1,300 people had approached the mosque armed with swords and rods. He said Muslims hid inside the mosque and asked police officers for help. Officers told the worshippers that the people wanted to inspect the mosque for weapons.“They destroyed and burned Qur’ans, broke every glass window and door and urinated on the water storage which Muslims used to take ablution,” the witness said.

A mosque official said the attacks were triggered when several people, including some Buddhist monks, demanded a search of the main building after soldiers had inspected a 105-acre (43-hectare) lake nearby.

Local residents told AFP: “It was the men on motorbikes who started the violence. They were from out of town,” said an owner of an electronic goods store. “After they started smashing Muslim shops and throwing petrol bombs, the locals joined in while the police did nothing.”
A police spokesman rejected allegations that the police had stood by while the violence unfolded. “All police officers have been instructed to take stern action against the violators, even to use the maximum force. Perpetrators could face up to a 10-year jail term,” he said. A police source said seven of those arrested for the violence in Kottampitiya were Sinhalese from nearby Buddhist villages.

“They were leading the charge yesterday. They were instructing people on which stores to attack,” said the police source. Police said they fired in the air and used tear gas at several places to deter people from attempting to attack mosques. On May 14 police arrested 23 people including three Sinhala Buddhist hardliners who were investigated last year for similar actions in Kandy’s central province.

Navin Dissanayake, Minister of plantation industries, said, “These are organised attacks on Muslim business houses and premises.” When asked who was organising the attacks, Dissanayake said: “Amith Weerasinghe, Dan Priyasad, and Namal Kumara (are heading),” referring to the three Buddhist hardliners arrested on May 14.

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