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

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.


Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”