Police, giving the first comprehensive update after communal violence erupted earlier this week, said 85 people had been arrested for rioting in Kandy, including the head of a radical group and 10 others accused of spreading extremist views via social media.
Speaking at a media conference, police said petrol bombs were hurled at a mosque yesterday as hundreds of police and troops provided security in the Kandy District. Police confirmed that significant numbers of Muslim-owned businesses were set on fire and vandalised in several parts of the country. Two deaths have been confirmed so far with 11 others injured.
Police announced 85 people had been arrested for rioting in the hill district, including the leader of the radical Sinhalese Buddhist group known as Mahason Balakaya, which is accused of triggering the violence after they organised a rally in the town following the death of a Sinhalese Buddhist.
“We have arrested 10 key suspects, including Amith Weerasinghe, who orchestrated and led these attacks,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters in Colombo, adding that another 75 were detained.
More than 200 homes, businesses and vehicles have been torched in three days of violence by mobs. A 24-hour curfew was imposed on Wednesday afternoon after a hand grenade exploded in the hands of an attacker, killing him and wounding 11 others, officials said. Four others were also arrested in Kandy after they were found violating curfew.
“Those who violated the curfew were remanded till 21 March by the Kandy Magistrate’s Court. The other suspects are being interrogated and action against them will be taken under the rules and regulations of the state of emergency,” the police spokesman added.
The day-time curfew was eased following a calm night but schools were shuttered as tensions remain high in the tourist hotspot. In Kuruvita, 125 kilometres (78 miles) south of Kandy, police said petrol bombs were lobbed at a mosque. Little damage was inflicted and three suspects are being pursued.
Armoured vehicles and heavily-armed troops guarded Kandy, the epicentre of the violence where internet services remain suspended and an evening curfew is in place.
The Government-ordered internet blackout, initiated after police discovered that mobs of Sinhalese rioters were using social media to coordinate attacks on Muslim establishments, is still in place.