Police nab leader behind Lanka raids

9 others arrested belong to hardline group

By TT Bureau in Kandy
  • Published 9.03.18
Lankan armoured personnel carriers patrol the streets of Katugastota, a suburb of Kandy, on Thursday. (AFP)

Kandy: Police in Sri Lanka said on Thursday it had arrested the suspected leader and nine others suspects behind a wave of anti-Muslim attacks by Sinhalese Buddhist hardliners in a central highlands region this week.

Sri Lanka's Kandy district has been rocked by communal clashes since Sunday following attacks on members of the minority Muslim community by nationalist crowds from the Sinhalese majority. At least two persons have been killed.

President Maithripala Sirisena decreed a state of emergency in Kandy on Wednesday but crowds carried out more attacks targeting mosques and businesses belonging to Muslims overnight, residents said.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said all 10 people arrested belonged to a hardline Buddhist group. He named the suspected leader as Amith Jeewan Weerasinghe and said he belonged to a group called Mahason Balakaya.

He said this group had published videos of hate speech directed against Muslims. Most of Sri Lanka's Muslims live in the east and centre of the island and make up about 9 per cent of its 21 million people. Buddhists make up about 70 per cent and ethnic Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, about 13 per cent.

Residents in Kandy district said the death of a Buddhist youth after an altercation with a group of Muslims had triggered the violence.

Two days after the death, a large crowd of Buddhists brought a symbolic coffin to protest against the death of the driver in Digana town where most of the shops are either owned or rented by Muslims, residents said.

"First they burnt the mosque, there were even women among the attackers. Then they started to burn all the Muslim shops," said 30-year old Mohamed Shifan. He said he had 3.7 million rupees ($23,817) lying in his car which he had collected to start a new electric goods business. Reuters