Sri Lanka maintains curfew amid anti-Muslim riots

Heavily-armed Sri Lankan soldiers riding past the Jumha Mosque after a mob attack in Minuwangoda yesterday. A curfew is in place in the country's North-Western Province, where attackers set fire to Muslim-owned shops, vandalised homes and smashed win
Heavily-armed Sri Lankan soldiers riding past the Jumha Mosque after a mob attack in Minuwangoda yesterday. A curfew is in place in the country's North-Western Province, where attackers set fire to Muslim-owned shops, vandalised homes and smashed windows, furniture and fittings inside several mosques. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MINUWANGODA (Sri Lanka) • A nationwide curfew in Sri Lanka was in force for a second night yesterday, and social media remained off-limits after a man was killed by sword-wielding rioters in an escalating anti-Muslim backlash following terror attacks on Easter Sunday.

Violence broke out on Monday, three weeks after Islamist extremist attacks killed 258 people, with rampaging mobs carrying out arson attacks and 2,000 people vandalising a mosque, witnesses said.

In the North-Western Province (NWP), police said a 45-year-old Muslim man was slaughtered in his shop by a crowd carrying swords.

Police said yesterday that 23 people had been arrested, including Amith Weerasinghe, a man from Sri Lanka's majority Buddhist Sinhalese community, who had been out on bail for his role in similar riots in March last year.

Elsewhere in the NWP north of Colombo, the attackers, who outnumbered police and security forces, set fire to Muslim-owned shops, vandalised homes and smashed windows, furniture and fittings inside several mosques.

In the adjoining Gampaha district, men on motorbikes led arson attacks in the town of Minuwangoda, residents told AFP.

"They were from out of town," an owner of an electronic goods store told AFP by telephone. "After they started smashing Muslim shops and throwing petrol bombs, the locals joined in." He said police and security forces appeared to be overwhelmed and that by the time troops fired in the air to disperse the mobs, it was too late.

A pasta factory owned by a Muslim businessman was razed after unidentified attackers threw burning tyres inside. "Police and security forces did not do anything to put out the fire," the owner of Diamond Pasta, Mr Ashraf Jifthy, said.

Video footage of the unrest showed shops on fire as mobs armed with sticks and stones roamed the streets attacking Muslim-owned businesses.

Political commentator Victor Ivan suggested the violence was politically orchestrated. "The opposition feels it can gain when there is instability and the government appears to be weak. There is evidence of junior-level opposition figures instigating communal violence."

He said the political establishment, including the opposition, had failed to provide leadership and restore confidence after the April 21 attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.

In an address to the nation on Monday night, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the unrest would hinder investigations into the attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels.

Internet service providers said the telecoms regulator had extended a social media ban to Twitter. Earlier, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram had been blocked to prevent the spread of messages inciting violence.

Muslims make up around 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's population and Christians about 7.6 per cent.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2019, with the headline 'Sir Lanka maintains curfew amid anti-Muslim riots'. Print Edition | Subscribe