Buddhist mob came by the hundreds, screaming at the top of their lungs and carrying sticks, stones and petrol bombs, as they descended on the hill town of Ambatenna in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported today.
Some two dozen policemen and soldiers watched helplessly, according to residents, as the mob vandalised and set fire to Muslim homes and businesses in the town’s Welekada area.
“We were so scared,” Fathima Zameer told Al Jazeera, clutching her three-week-old infant as she recounted the violence that swept through her neighbourhood that morning.
“We have nowhere to go. They broke all the windows in my house. Our whole house is burnt.”
The mob, which witnesses said was between 200 and 500-strong, overran Welekada defying a curfew and a state of emergency imposed by President Maithiripala Sirisena a day earlier to quell anti-Muslim riots that began in the highland district of Kandy over the weekend.
In Welekada, rioters vandalised at least 15 houses belonging to Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority and a mosque, residents told Al Jazeera. Four of the buildings and several vehicles were also torched.
The attacks have raised fears of a return to conflict and instability in Sri Lanka, less than a decade after the South Asian island nation ended a bloody civil war with Tamil separatists.
The latest bout of communal violence began on Sunday when a man from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority died after being beaten by a group of Muslim men over a traffic accident in the town of Teledeniya in Kandy, an area famous for its tea plantations and Buddhist religious sites.
The next day, hundreds of Sinhala Buddhists, mostly outsiders, according to officials and residents, poured into Kandy and attacked and torched dozens of Muslim businesses, houses and mosques. The body of a 23-year-old Muslim man was found in a burned building, and the government, fearing more violence, imposed a state of emergency on Tuesday. It also deployed the army and extended a police curfew in the region.
The violence, however, continued. Overnight on Wednesday “several incidents” were reported in four towns, said Ruwan Gunasekara, a police spokesman.
Three police officers were injured during clashes in Menikhinna, he said. Later in the day, Ambatenna was attacked and a Sinhalese man was killed there after a hand grenade he was carrying exploded.
Gunasekara said security forces have arrested about 35 people since the riots began.
The government has also suspended internet services in the area and blocked access to Facebook and other social messaging applications including Whatsapp and Viber in an attempt to halt incendiary rumours.