A 45-year-old Muslim merchant was killed on Monday during riots that have rocked the country since Sunday. The eruption of violence comes as a result of Islamic State-sponsored terrorist attacks that left 258 dead and 500 wounded on April 21 during Easter Sunday.
“This is the first death related to these riots” anti-Muslim, summarizes a head of the Sri Lankan police. Since Sunday, the Sri Lankan Muslim community has been the target of increased violence in retaliation for the Easter attacks, when jihadists blew up three churches and three hotels across the island, leaving 258 dead and 500 wounded on April 21.
A 45-year-old Muslim merchant died Monday after being lynched by a crowd while he was in his carpentry shop in Negombo town. More than one hundred faithful of the Church of San Sebastián had died three weeks earlier in this city north of the capital Colombo, during the explosion of one of the six suicide bombers National Thowheeth Jama’ath, the group of Islamists who had claimed the attacks by allying with the Islamic State.
In the face of this violence targeting the Muslim minority in the midst of Ramadan, Sri Lankan police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and the government imposed a national curfew on Monday night from 9 pm to 4 am morning. In a televised address on Monday night, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the riots hindered the investigation of the Easter attacks and strengthened the power of the security forces to neutralize disrupters.
“Do not laugh anymore, one day you’ll cry.” This comment posted on Facebook by another Muslim trader, Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, 38, had unleashed, the day before, a myriad of attacks by Christian groups on mosques and Muslim-owned shops, including in the northwestern town of Chilaw, police said. “They destroyed and burned Korans, broke all the windows and doors and urinated on the water that the Muslims used to take ablution,” a 34-year-old man at the mosque told Reuters Abrar when she was ransacked in Kiniyama town.
The Muslims had to take refuge in surrounding rice paddies to escape the attackers armed with swords. The merchant was arrested by law enforcement and the Sri Lankan authorities blocked Monday access to Facebook, WhatsApp and several other social networks to prevent them from being used to ignite the situation. Sri Lankan police announced on Tuesday the arrest of 23 people involved in this wave of violence.
Sri Lankan Muslims Suffered Violence Before Attacks
“We call on members of the Muslim community to be patient,” said the ACJU, the main body uniting the Islamic clergy. This is not the first time that the Muslim community, which represents only 10% of the population, is the victim of violence in Sri Lanka. In March 2018, the government had to declare a state of emergency and deploy its army to contain the riots led by Sinhala Buddhists against the island’s Muslims.
But until today, there was no real tension between Christians and Sri Lankan Muslims, says Sri Lankan scholar Alan Keenan at the International Crisis Group.. According to the expert, Muslims were often in solidarity because Christians, who represent only 7.6% of the population, were also targeted by the violence of Sinhala Buddhist majority.
UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng and UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Karen Smith have expressed concern over the rise of these anti-Muslim acts in Sri Lanka in a joint statement. “Sri Lanka has a pluralistic society,” they say. To be Sri Lankan is to be Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian. ”