On Monday afternoon, mobs unleashed sustained violence on a group of villages in Kurunegala district in the island’s North Western Province, damaging several mosques in the area.
At least two busloads of people, aided by local goons, carried out raging attacks on mosques, Muslim-owned shops and homes on May 13 in Kurunegala, according to locals. This is the worst outbreak of violence since the Easter terror attacks in Sri Lanka.
A 45-year-old Muslim man, who ran a timber store, succumbed to stab injuries.
“The fact that the mobs arrived in buses showed that these attacks were planned,” said Hilmy Ahmed, vice-president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella body of Muslim civil society organisations. “It was very much like the previous instances of anti-Muslim attacks,” he told The Hindu on Tuesday.
On Monday afternoon, mobs unleashed sustained violence on a group of villages in Kurunegala district in the island’s North Western Province, damaging several mosques in the area. Dozens of homes and shops were torched. The allegedly planned attacks prompted a police curfew and several residents spent the night in nearby jungles, hiding in fear, locals earlier told The Hindu. Social media platforms remain blocked after a government decision, and several Sri Lankans also complained of mobile data being interrupted.
Further, a prominent legislator aligned to President Maithripala Sirisena, and suspects linked to earlier anti-Muslim attacks in the southern and central parts of Sri Lanka, have come under the spotlight in the wake of Monday’s raging mob attacks targeting Muslims.
Dayasiri Jayasekara, General Secretary of President Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and a former Minister, visited a police station in one of the affected villages to reportedly transfer six suspects, who were in custody for allegedly violating the curfew, to another police station and to have them released on bail. The local English newspaper Daily Mirror on Monday reported that “residents in the area laid siege to the police station” and demanded their release.
Multiple attempts to reach Mr. Jayasekara proved unsuccessful, and messages seeking his response to the allegation have so far not been answered.
Video recordings of the clashes shared by locals also revealed at least two key suspects — linked to hardline Sinhala Buddhist groups that led earlier anti-Muslim attacks in the island — were present in the vicinity, with the mobs. “One individual whose hate speech triggered the Aluthgama violence in 2014, and another linked to the Digana anti-Muslim attacks in 2018 were in the area,” Mr. Ahmed said.
It is unclear if police have arrested anyone in connection with the attacks, as officers in-charge in the affected areas and the police spokesman in Colombo could not be reached for comment.
If the authorities do not take swift action the situation could “snowball into a complex conundrum”, cautioned Cabinet Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem. Allowing such violence and “pre-planned attacks”, he said, was a reward to the “demented individuals” who carried out the Easter bombings. “This is exactly what they wanted,” he told The Hindu.
Observing that security forces had “no excuse” to let violence persist despite a police curfew, Mr. Hakeem said, “We raised the matter at a meeting with the top brass yesterday and things were later brought under control. But the situation in the country is very worrying.”