Sri Lankan Muslims living in fear as mosques and businesses attacked

A mosque in Bandarawela, Sri Lanka

Mosques and Muslim-run businesses have been attacked in Sri Lanka in the worst bout of anti-Muslim violence since the deadly Easter Sunday bombings.

The mosques and shops were vandalised or set on fire, and one Muslim man was slashed to death.

Several of those affected told 5Pillars that Sri Lankan media is inciting against Muslims and the authorities are doing little to protect them.

A curfew will remain in the North-Western province until further notice, police said. In several towns, police fired into the air and used tear gas to disperse mobs.

In the north-western town of Kiniyama, hundreds of people stormed a mosque, destroying windows and doors and burning Qurans, according to witnesses.

In the Catholic-majority town of Chilaw, Muslim-owned shops and mosques were attacked after a dispute that started on Facebook, police said.

A man died from stab wounds after a mob attacked his business in Puttalam District, also in Sri Lanka’s north-west.

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Incidents were reported in the town of Hettipola, where at least three shops were reportedly torched.

A large pasta factory was burned near Minuwangoda, with the owners accusing police of standing by while employees were trapped inside. The police have said that 13 people were arrested in Minuwangoda, where Muslim-owned shops were also attacked

In Negombo, where 93 people were killed in a church bombing on Easter Sunday, 9 Muslim businesses were targeted by Singhalese Buddhist mobs.

5Pillars spoke with workers and the owners of the Jiffrey’s jewellery store in Negombo which was destroyed and from where more than 5 million rupees (£22,000) worth of jewellery was looted. They complained that the media and the police have not been taking the matter seriously, although two people have been arrested.

The wife of the owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, told 5Pillars: “We’re still in shock, it’s a very tough situation – we started that shop 35 years ago and everything just went up in minutes. A mob of hundreds of people with sticks, bricks and iron rods attacked the shop which was closed at the time. They started throwing stones and they just missed my husband and then they took him by the collar and brought him out and punched him in the face. And then they started beating the boys who were working in his shop.

“But when they brought him out the good thing was that there was a commando Jeep that was passing so two army commandos dispersed the crowd and saved him. But before that the army was present and they were watching and they didn’t do anything.”

She added: “No government minister or anybody came to find out our grievances. We feel unprotected and there is so much radicalisation happening in Sri Lanka against the Muslims at the moment; it’s very unsafe for us to be there. The local Sri Lankan media is telling a lot of lies and is defaming the Muslims and saying the mosques are centres of extremism and we have weapons there. People are telling Muslims to go back to their own countries.”

Tensions have been high in Sri Lanka since an “Islamist” group was blamed for attacks on churches and hotels three weeks ago on Easter Sunday, killing more than 250 people.

In a televised address, Police Chief Chandana Wickramaratne warned that officers would respond to rioters with maximum force.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also appealed for calm, saying the current unrest was hampering the investigation into last month’s attacks.

Muslims make up nearly 10% of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people, who are predominantly Singhalese Buddhists. Mob violence in central Sri Lanka targeting Muslim communities in March of last year prompted the government to declare a state of emergency.

The government says that security forces have restored calm to streets in the areas affected by violence and insist officers are preventing revenge attacks on Muslims.

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