74 held after anti-Muslim violence hits Sri Lanka

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Muslim villagers react next to the dead body of Mohamed Salim Fowzul Ameer, who died in a mob attack, during the funeral ceremony at a mosque in Kottaramulla, Sri Lanka May 14, 2019. (Reuters)
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Muslim men stand in front of the Abbraar Masjid mosque after a mob attack in Kiniyama, Sri Lanka May 13, 2019. (Reuters)
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A Muslim man stands inside the Abbraar Masjid mosque after a mob attack in Kiniyama, Sri Lanka May 13, 2019. (Reuters)
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Abbraar Masjid mosque is seen after a mob attack in Kiniyama, Sri Lanka May 13, 2019. (Reuters)
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Motorbikes of worshipers are seen at the Abbraar Masjid mosque after a mob attack in Kiniyama, Sri Lanka May 13, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 15 May 2019

74 held after anti-Muslim violence hits Sri Lanka

  • Massive damage reported, security tightened, island-wide curfew imposed
  • Police and troops fought off hundreds of rioters in at least six towns earlier Monday with teargas

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police have arrested 74 people following mob violence targeting Muslims, following a fresh backlash against Easter suicide bombings that killed hundreds of people at churches and hotels. 
Daesh said it helped with last month’s devastating attacks that were carried out by local Islamist militants, leading to a spike in anti-Muslim resentment among the nation of 21 million people.
The government imposed an island-wide curfew on Monday night, but Sri Lankans woke up Tuesday to hear about violence against Muslims, their homes, businesses and mosques.
Mobs attacked the Kuliyapitiya, Hettipola, Aukana, Kottampitiya, Negombo, Chilaw, Kurunegala, Dummalasuriya, Rasnayakapura, Kobeigane, Bingiriya areas.
By Monday evening they had moved to Nikaweratiya, driving Muslim families into paddy fields and into hiding while they were fasting during Ramadan.
Shamila Reyal, whose husband works in the Middle East, described how thugs arrived in vans and on motorcycles at Thummula, a village around 80 km from the capital.
They attacked the mosque. But when her brother went to the scene, he was pushed back by police. “I ran in fear with my three-year-old daughter to the woods,” Reyal told Arab News. “The whole night I was hiding, without a glass of water.”
Rameeza Begum from Pasyala, a village around 40 km from Colombo, saw people disembarking from a coach to attack the local mosque. “The thugs took to their heels on seeing the army vehicle which came to announce the curfew,” she told Arab News.
Ali Fahmey wrote on Facebook that the factory he worked in was stormed by rioters and that seven of his colleagues had to flee for their lives, saying that one even jumped out of a window to escape.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, urged authorities to carry out weapon checks on all homes, regardless of their occupants’ religion. He said people in the mobs were wielding iron bars and other instruments that could be lethal.
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said special security arrangements were in place to tackle mobs coming into Muslim areas, and that checkpoints had been set up to stop intruders from entering villages.
Of the 74 arrested, 33 are in custody and the rest are out on bail.
One government minister said it was unbelievable that there was violence in the very areas with police presence.
“We have repeatedly complained to the prime minister and president about the impending backlash and told them to take preventative action,” Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen told Arab News. “I think the mental pain is much more than the financial losses to Muslims.”
Arab News learned that Fouzul Ameer, a carpenter and father to four children, had been stabbed to death. Police have yet to confirm the killing.
Acting Inspector General of Police C.D. Wickramaratne warned that the country and its people would not be held hostage by destructive individuals. People arrested in connection with such acts would not receive bail and would face prison terms of up to 10 years, he said.
Extremists and individuals who were inciting violence should not mistake police patience for weakness, he added, and the majority of Sri Lankans supported law enforcement in the wake of the April bombings.
M.A. Sumanthiran, a spokesman for the Tamil National Alliance, said he condemned the violence and called on authorities to take action against the perpetrators. “There can be no room for terrorism in this country — not for the terrorism that bombs churches, and not for the terrorism that attacks mosques.”
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a public policy research and advocacy think tank, said it was alarmed about the communal violence.
It said that recent and ongoing incidents indicated that Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship were being targeted by violent individuals and groups, with incidents also reported during curfew hours.
The violence was being stoked by viral content that was anti-Muslim. The CPA also expressed concern over reports indicating inaction or a delayed response by security authorities. It called this sluggishness “an unfortunate trend which has repeatedly been witnessed in the past.”
An official government notice issued Tuesday banned two local extremist groups: National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.
The government has blamed the NTJ for the Easter attacks.


India expels Pakistan embassy officials for alleged spying

Updated 32 min 11 sec ago

India expels Pakistan embassy officials for alleged spying

  • The pair have been ordered to leave the country "within 24 hours"

NEW DELHI: Two officials at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi were being expelled for "indulging in espionage activities", India's foreign ministry said late Sunday.
"The government has declared both these officials persona non grata for indulging in activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission," the ministry said in a statement.
The pair had to leave the country "within 24 hours", the statement added.