As a retaliation of Christian church attacks, unruly mobs attacked several mosques, torched dozens of shops and homes of Muslims near Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka in an hours-long violence which began on Monday evening.
The attack took place at Kurunegala, some 100 km north-west of capital Colombo, and police said that the biggest outbreak of violence since the April 21 Easter serial bombings. The cluster of villages in Kurunegala district — Kuliyapitiya, Kobeigane, Rasnayakapura, Hettipola, Bingiriya and Dummalasuriya — witnessed much destruction, according to local sources. At least three mosques were attacked late on Sunday in nearby Kiniyama, sources said. One mosque has been almost fully destroyed.
To stop violence from the further escalation, Police have imposed curfew across Sri Lanka. In order to stop the spread of rumours, the government also blocked social networking platforms including WhatsApp and Facebook.
A police curfew, initially imposed in six villages in the district, was later extended to cover the entire island until Tuesday morning, amid fears of the attacks spreading. Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake told local media that troops would not hesitate to use “maximum force” to contain the tense situation.
The incidents point to an escalation of violence targeting Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, following the Easter terror attacks that the government had attributed to two local Islamist radical groups.
It was said that the war-cry motorbike-born miscreants with belligerent body language raided the muslim-dominated villages. In order to save themselves, villagers were either stayed indoors, or hide in the nearby jungles.
Kurunegala, an ancient royal capital, is a Sinhala-Buddhist-majority district which is home to nearly 16 lakh people. Muslims living here constitute 7.3% of the population, according to government data.
Hours after the attacks in Kurunegala on Monday, reports of similar incidents of violence emerged from Gampaha district, less than 30 km from Colombo. Earlier, on Sunday, Chilaw town near Colombo had witnessed dozens pelting mosques and Muslim-owned stores with stones, and a local man being beaten by a mob, prompting a police curfew.
In the wake of the ghastly Easter blasts, Muslim political leaders had flagged the possibility of a backlash targeting the community. Condemning Monday’s spate of violence, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said: “There is no difference between such racists trying to set our country on fire and the suicide bombers who detonated themselves.”
Former President and Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa, who represents Kurunegala in Parliament, urged citizens not to take the law into their own hands. Referring to the deadly anti-Tamil riots of 1983, he said the country should not go on a similar path again.
Colombo-based NGO Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said on Monday that it was “alarmed” by the increased spate of communal violence against the Muslim community since the Easter attacks.