Communal Violence Post Sri Lanka Blasts – What We Know So Far
Nearly a month has passed since the devastating terror attacks hit the island nation of Sri Lanka on the holy day of Easter Sunday, on 21 April. Terrorists had struck three churches and four hotels across the nation in a series of bomb blasts, which left over 200 people dead, and several more injured.
There had been a fragile peace for ten years in the country, since the end of the prolonged Sri Lankan civil war, but these blasts threaten to restore a recently forgotten communal tension in Sri Lankan society. Reports of violence against the Muslim community have already started to flow in from across the country.
Here is what we know about the situation in Sri Lanka, as it stands:
- The government had on Monday, 13 May, imposed a nationwide curfew and temporarily blocked social media and messaging apps in an effort to curb the communal violence, after mobs attacked shops, mosques and homes of Muslims. It was extended for a second night on Tuesday.
- Officials haven’t provided information about the casualties of the violence, but, according to an AFP report, a Muslim man – a carpenter by profession – was stabbed to death at his shop. Several people have been arrested.
- The violence reached a peak on Monday afternoon when several mosques were damaged and shops and homes were torched by the rioters in the Kurunegala district of the nation’s North-Western Province , reports The Hindu. Prior to this, attacks had been reported from central and southern parts of Sri Lanka.
- Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in a statement on Monday, announced that forces have been deployed to control the violence. The Sri Lankan police has warned that they will respond to the anti-Muslim rioters with maximum force, reports the BBC.
- The government has also temporarily banned social media websites like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Viber to curb the flow of misinformation. Monday’s violence was sparked in part by a Facebook post from a Muslim shopkeeper. Local Christians from the town of Chilaw, who interpreted the post as a threat of violence, vandalised the man's shop as well as a nearby mosque, reports The Guardian.
- Before Monday, a series of intermittent curfews had been imposed in certain areas which had seen smaller clashes.
- Saudi Arabia, in the aftermath of the Easter attacks, had advised its citizens to leave the country because of the anticipated danger. A Saudi-educated scholar Mohamed Aliyar has been arrested for links with Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the bombings.
- One of the key accused in the blasts, a 24-year-old software engineer called Aadhil Ameez, was being monitored by Indian intelligence agencies for links with the Islamic State. He has also been arrested, according to a Reuters report.
- Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando had resigned four days after the blasts, taking responsibility for the government’s lapse in intelligence on the Easter attacks, which has been credited to political infighting.
- The Sri Lankan civil war was between the Tamil and the Sinhalese communities, but there is precedent of anti-Muslim sentiment. In March 2018, Sri Lanka had imposed a nationwide state of emergency after a series of riots and mob attacks against Muslims in central districts.