Gunmen fire on buses carrying Muslim Sri Lankan voters

Police reinforcements rushed to the troubled area, cleared the road obstructions and escorted the convoy so passengers could cast their ballots. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 November 2019

Gunmen fire on buses carrying Muslim Sri Lankan voters

  • Attackers set up roadblocks to ambush a convoy with over 100 vehicles
  • Muslim voters were traveling to the neighboring district of Mannar

COLOMBO: Gunmen fired on buses carrying minority Muslim voters in northwest Sri Lanka on Saturday, police said, as an election official admitted failures to protect vulnerable communities ahead of presidential polls.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, but a police official said the attackers had burnt tires on the road and set up makeshift roadblocks to ambush the convoy of more than 100 vehicles.
“The gunmen opened fire and also pelted stones,” said a police official in Tantirimale, 240 kilometers north of the capital Colombo. “At least two buses were hit, but we have no reports of casualties.”
Muslims from the coastal town of Puttalam were traveling to the neighboring district of Mannar, where they were registered to vote, the official added.
Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils and Muslims are seen as crucial to deciding a close contest between the two frontrunners — housing minister Sajith Premadasa and the opposition’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
One of three Election Commissioners, Ratnajeevan Hoole, said the authorities failed to provide adequate protection to internally displaced minority Muslims in the multi-ethnic northwest.
“They (the Muslims) asked for polling booths in the areas where they are living without having to travel a long distance to their original village to vote,” Hoole said in a statement.
“They were sure that a disturbance like this would happen,” he said, adding that his pleas for protection were not considered by the Election Commission, which works through majority decisions.
Police reinforcements rushed to the troubled area, cleared the road obstructions and escorted the convoy so passengers could cast their ballots.
The incident came as police and troops were locked in a tense standoff in the Tamil-dominated northern peninsula of Jaffna where residents complained about military roadblocks ahead of voting.
Police reported to the independent Election Commission that the army was illegally manning roadblocks that could discourage residents from freely traveling to polling booths.
“After bringing to the notice of the army that the roadblocks were illegal at a time of a national election, they have dismantled them,” police said in a statement.
Police sources said they had also warned local military commanders that any disruption to the election would be reported to courts and offenders prosecuted.
The police also arrested 10 men who were unable to explain their presence in the Jaffna peninsula on the eve of voting.
“We suspect they were trying to create trouble during voting,” a police official said.
Local media reports say there are fears that a strong military presence in Jaffna, the heartland of the island’s Tamil minority, could influence voter turnout and favor Rajapaksa, a former defense ministry chief and brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.


Jersey City attack being investigated as domestic terrorism

Updated 13 December 2019

Jersey City attack being investigated as domestic terrorism

  • Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the attack was driven by hatred of Jews and law enforcement and is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism
  • The attackers killed three people in the store, in addition to a police officer at a cemetery about a mile away, before dying in an hourslong gunbattle with police

JERSEY CITY: The couple who burst into a kosher market in Jersey City with assault weapons appear to have acted alone even though they had expressed interest in a fringe religious group that often disparages whites and Jews, New Jersey officials said.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the attack was driven by hatred of Jews and law enforcement and is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism.
The two killers were armed with a variety of weapons, including an AR-15-style rifle and a shotgun that they were wielding when they stormed into the store in an attack that left the scene littered with several hundred shell casings, broken glass and a community in mourning. A pipebomb was also found in a stolen U-Haul van.
“The outcome would have been far, far worse” if not for the Jersey City Police, Grewal said Thursday. Authorities noted that a Jewish school is next to the market, and a Catholic school is across the street.
The attackers killed three people in the store, in addition to a police officer at a cemetery about a mile away, before dying in an hourslong gunbattle with police Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
“The evidence points toward acts of hate. I can confirm that we’re investigating this matter as potential acts of domestic terrorism fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs,” the attorney general said. He said social media posts, witness interviews and other evidence reflected the couple’s hatred of Jews and police.
Grewal noted that after killing three people in the store, the couple concentrated their fire on police and did not shoot at others who happened to be on the streets.
Grewal said the attackers, David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, had expressed interest in a fringe religious group called the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose members often rail against Jews and whites. But he said there was no evidence so far that they were members, and added that the two were believed to have acted alone.
The pair brought their cache of weapons in a U-Haul van they drove from Bay View Cemetery, where they shot and killed Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals, according to the attorney general.
Anderson fired away with the AR-15-style rifle as he entered the store, while Graham brought a 12-gauge shotgun into the shop. They also had handguns with a homemade silencer and a device to catch shell casings. In all, they had five guns — four recovered in the store, one in the van — in what Grewal called a “tremendous amount of firepower.”
Serial numbers from two of the weapons showed that Graham purchased them in Ohio in 2018, the attorney general said.
The victims killed in the store were: Mindel Ferencz, 31, who with her husband owned the grocery; 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student from Brooklyn who was shopping there; and store employee Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49. A fourth person in the store was shot and wounded but managed to escape, authorities said.
Members of New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community gathered Wednesday night for funerals for Ferencz and Deutsch. Thousands of people, mostly men, followed Ferencz’s casket through the streets of Brooklyn, hugging and crying.
The bloodshed in the city of 270,000 people across the Hudson River from New York City spread fear through the Jewish community and weighed heavily on the minds of more than 300 people who attended a vigil Wednesday night at a synagogue about a mile from where the shootings took place.
In the deadliest attack on Jews in US history, 11 people were killed in an October 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last April, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue near San Diego, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.