By Tim Hume with Reporting by Iqbal Athas
(CNN) – Shortly before Buddhist mobs made a deadly rampage through Muslim neighborhoods near the town of Aluthgama, Sri Lanka last month, a man with cropped hair and glasses stood before expectant crowds to deliver an explosive speech.
Video footage of the rally, called following a traffic altercation between Muslim youths and a Buddhist monk in the coastal town, captures the speaker in full flight.
In a pointed reference to the security forces stationed nearby, he declares that the Sri Lankan police and army are Sinhalese, the mostly Buddhist ethnic majority that accounts for three-quarters of the island’s 20 million people.
Then, his arm raised and his voice rising to a shriek, he issues an explicit threat to Muslims, using a derogatory term for the minority.
To roars of approval, he vows that if any Muslim, were to lay a hand on a Sinhalese — let alone a monk — that would “be the end” of all of them.
What is striking about the clip, aside from the viciousness of the rhetoric, is that the firebrand behind the microphone is dressed in the saffron robes of a Buddhist monk.
He is Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, the Buddhist holy man who is the general secretary and public face of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, also known as Buddhist Power Force).
The ultra-nationalist Sinhalese Buddhist organization has emerged as a troubling presence on the Sri Lankan political landscape in recent years, and is blamed by many for inciting the deadly violence in Aluthgama.
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