Sri Lankan police fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse mobs attacking mosques and Muslim-owned businesses in several towns yesterday, as the country suffered a violent new backlash from the Easter suicide bombings.
Police and troops fought off hundreds of Christian-led rioters in at least six towns in North-Western Province where a curfew was imposed, police said. “Several shops have been attacked,” a senior police officer told AFP. “When mobs tried to attack mosques, we fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse them.”
The curfew started in the six towns but was extended across the province amid fears that violence could spread. There were no immediate reports of casualties or arrests. “There is a strong political element to the riots today,” the police officer said. “There are people trying to make political capital out of this situation.”
Police said a mob targeted Muslim-owned shops in Chilaw on Sunday in anger at a Facebook post by a shopkeeper. “Don’t laugh more, 1 day u will cry,” he wrote, and local Christians took it to be a warning of an impending attack.
The mobs smashed the man’s shop and vandalised a nearby mosque prompting security forces to fire in the air to disperse the crowd on Sunday, but the violence spread to nearby towns where Muslim businesses were also attacked. A curfew was imposed until dawn yesterday and reimposed after a 10-hour break.