People view a damaged shop after mobs attacked Muslim-owned shops at the Poruthota village in Negombo in Sri Lanka. (Photo by Chamila Karunarathne/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Sri Lankan police arrested 23 people on Tuesday (14) in connection with a spate of attacks on Muslim-owned homes and shops in apparent reprisal for the Easter bombings by Islamist militants that killed more than 250 people.

Soldiers in armoured vehicles patrolled the towns hit by sectarian violence this week as residents recalled how Muslims had hid in paddy fields to escape mobs carrying rods and swords, incensed over the militant attacks.

The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels, mostly in Colombo, killing more than 250 people and fuelling fears of a backlash against the island nation’s minority Muslims.

Mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest on motorbikes and in buses, ransacking mosques, burning Korans and attacking shops with petrol bombs in rioting that began on Sunday (12), Muslim residents said.

Police said they arrested 23 people from across the island for inciting violence against Muslims, who make up less than 10 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people who are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the situation is under control and no new incidents had been reported on Tuesday.

But a nationwide curfew from 9 pm (1530 GMT) to 4 am would be in effect for a second night.

The lone fatality was a man killed while trying to protect his home from attack.

When mobs arrived in the Kottramulla area on Monday (13) evening, Mohamed Salim Fowzul Ameer, 49, went outside while his wife, Fatima Jiffriya, stayed with their four children.

Jiffriya, 37, then heard shouts and sounds of fighting.

“I opened the door to see my husband on the ground in a pool of blood, the police right in front and the mob running,” she said.
“His heart was still beating hard, I took him into my lap and started to scream for help,” she added, her voice breaking, as women consoled her children at an uncle’s house ahead of Ameer’s burial.

Reuters