MINUWANGODA: Sri Lanka announced on Tuesday a curfew for a second straight night after a man was killed by sword-wielding rioters in an escalating anti-Muslim backlash following the Easter terror attacks.
Violence broke out late on Monday, three weeks after Islamist extremist bombings killed 258 people, with rampaging mobs carrying out arson attacks and 2,000 people vandalising a mosque, witnesses said.
Police announced another nationwide curfew for a second night to try and stop the violence, beginning at 9pm.
The curfew had been in place all day in North-Western Province (NWP), where police said a 45-year-old Muslim man was slaughtered in his carpentry shop late on Monday by a crowd carrying swords.
Fauzul Ameen was buried on Tuesday at a Muslim cemetery in Nattandiya under tight security. Heavily armed troops and police backed by armoured personnel carriers guarded a service attended by around 100 people.
Police said that 13 people had been arrested including Amith Weerasinghe, a man from Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhist Sinhalese community on bail for his role in similar riots in March last year.
Elsewhere in NWP, north of Colombo, attackers outnumbering police and security forces set fire to Muslim-owned shops, vandalised homes and smashed windows, furniture and fittings inside several mosques.
In the adjoining Gampaha district, men on motorbikes led arson attacks in the town of Minuwangoda, 45 kilometres north of Colombo, local residents said.
“They were from out of town,” an owner of an electronic goods store said.
“After they started smashing Muslim shops and throwing petrol bombs, the locals joined in.”
He said police and security forces appeared to be overwhelmed and that by the time troops fired in the air to disperse the mobs it was too late.
A pasta factory owned by a Muslim businessman burned to the ground after unidentified attackers threw burning tyres inside.
“Police and security forces also did not do anything to put out the fire,” the owner of Diamond Pasta, Ashraf Jifthy, said. “Three of my Muslim workers were injured while trying to escape from the burning factory.” In the NWP, attackers have systematically targeted mosques for two days, local clerics said. In the town of Kinyama, two mosques were smashed as outnumbered armed police and troops stood by.
“About 2,000 people surrounded our mosque and smashed everything inside, even the bathroom fittings,” cleric M.I.M. Siddeeque said by telephone from the curfew-bound town of Bingiriya.
Video footage of the unrest showed burning shops as mobs armed with sticks and stones roamed the streets attacking Muslim-owned shops.
“Security forces are assisting police who have been ordered to use maximum force to contain the violence,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.
Political commentator Victor Ivan suggested that the violence was politically orchestrated.
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2019