Police unearth 17 safe houses for bombers in Sri Lanka

A soldier walks past a damaged shop after a mob attack in Minuwangoda. An overnight curfew ensured there was no repeat of Monday’s violence against Muslims. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019
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Police unearth 17 safe houses for bombers in Sri Lanka

  • Muslims welcome amendment to ruling on wearing abaya
  • The NTJ-run safe houses and seven terrorist training centers have been sealed

COLOMBO: National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), which was responsible for the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, had been running 17 safe houses and seven training centers for the suicide bombers, Ruwan Gunasekera, a police spokesman, said on Wednesday.

He said NTJ, along with two other organizations, had been proscribed by an extraordinary government gazette notification issued in Colombo on a directive from Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

Gunasekera said the safe houses and training centers had been sealed. He said the discoveries were based on information provided by members of the public.

The Easter Sunday suicide bomb blasts killed more than 250 people and injured more than 500 people, while Monday’s riots against Muslims and their properties resulted in one person’s death and caused heavy damage to Muslims shops and workplaces.

Meanwhile, the government made an amendment to a ruling on women’s attire — for the abaya — saying that women could only show their face from the forehead to the lower chin when in public. Last week’s notification indicated that women should show their full face, from forehead to lower chin, without covering the ears.

Following the earlier notification, Western Province Gov. Azath Salley made a representation to the island’s president urging him to amend the rule to allow Muslim women to cover their ears in public. “I am very happy that we are successful in convincing the government about our culture,” Salley said.

Ismeth Fathima, principal of the China Fort Girls’ school, told Arab News that this was a welcome move and Muslim women preferred to wear this form of hijab and abaya, which is more modest than showing the ears.  

Monday’s violence in various parts of the island severely impacted daily life. The most affected town was Minuwangoda, 40 km from the capital. About 42 Muslim shops, including restaurants, were burnt down by hooligans in retaliation for the suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday.

Acting Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena, who visited Minuwangoda on Wednesday, told the media that it was a shock to see so many facilities vandalized by hooligans. “We will not allow this to recur,” the minister said. Those who were responsible would have to pay the price for it, he said. 

Abu Khalid, the owner of a jewelry shop that was burnt down, told Arab News that it was his sole investment. “It is my bread and butter, I am used to an affluent life and now I am a pauper,” he said.

Sheikh Sulaiman, imam of a neighboring mosque in Galloluwa, said that everyone was saying his mosque would be the next target. “I am afraid to sleep inside the mosque,” he said.

Minuwangoda is now heavily policed. Patrol cars are patrolling the township to provide confidence and security for Muslims.


Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

Updated 47 min 7 sec ago
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Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

  • Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately
  • Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month

HONG KONG: Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of 'one country, two systems.' Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read 'Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.' 'Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!' the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers. Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a 'riot' and dissolving the Legislative Council.                   

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday. “We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building.

Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.