Anti-Muslim attacks lead to curfew

In Sri Lanka’s Chilaw, war of words on Facebook is followed by violence targeting mosques and shops

May 12, 2019 10:48 pm | Updated 10:48 pm IST

People attending a mass at the St. Theresa’s Church on Colombo.

People attending a mass at the St. Theresa’s Church on Colombo.

Several dozen people threw stones at mosques and stores and a local man was beaten in the town of Chilaw on Sri Lanka’s west coast on Sunday in a dispute that started on Facebook, sources told Reuters.

This comes three weeks after bombers blew themselves up on in four hotels and three churches, killing more than 250 people on Easter Sunday. Since then, Muslim groups say they have received dozens of complaints from across the country about people being harassed.

“A police curfew has been imposed in Chilaw Police area with immediate effect until 6 a.m. tomorrow to control the tense situation,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told Reuters. The police later said the curfew would be lifted at 4 a.m.

One arrested

Authorities said they arrested the author of a Facebook post, identifying him as Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, 38. Locals in Chilaw, a majority Christian town, said a post by him was interpreted as menacing and an angry crowd beat him. “Later they pelted stones at three mosques and some Muslim-owned shops. Now the situation has calmed down, but we are scared of the night,” said one local Muslim man.

One mosque suffered extensive damage, he said. Video footage circulating online shows several dozen young men shouting and throwing stones at a clothes store called New Hasmars, which locals said belonged to Hasmar.

Some communities say they are fearful that the government, which failed to act on successive warnings about looming Islamist attacks, has not caught all potential militants. A week ago in Negombo, where more than 100 people were killed during Easter prayers, a violent clash erupted between local Muslims and Christians after a traffic dispute.

Sunday mass resumes

Meanwhile, thousands of Catholics attended mass in Colombo on Sunday amid tight security. Soldiers armed with automatic assault rifles guarded St. Theresa’s church at Colombo’s Thimbirigasyaya residential quarter, while members of the congregation were searched for explosives.

The sprawling church car park was empty as the authorities did not allow any vehicles into the compound as part of high-level security.

Regular services were cancelled across all churches soon after the deadly suicide attacks, but the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith announced on Thursday that mass would be held in his diocese from on Sunday.

The Cardinal conducted private Sunday services in the past two weeks, which were broadcast live on television.

Most churches outside Colombo had resumed regular services from last week, but under tight security provided by the local police.

Catholic private schools, which remained closed after the Easter holidays will now reopen on Tuesday, church officials said.

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