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‘We have never seen this kind of devastation before’: Muslim Council Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday terrorist attack has been described as the most devastating seen in nearly 30 years in the country. A co-ordinated bomb attack on several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka has received global condemnation. A series of eight almost simultaneous blasts claimed 321 lives and wounded hundreds of others during church services on Sunday.

Speaking to VOC Breakfast Beat, the vice president of the Muslim Council in Sri Lanka, Hilmy Ahamed, said the country has been left completely broken by what he called “the most unfortunate tragedy”.

“Never in the history of Sri Lanka did we have such a co-ordinated attack, it was very well-planned and executed,” he said.

The Easter attacks are just the latest chapter in Sri Lanka’s history of violence. Over two decades ago, civil war broke out between the then-majority and the Tamil minority in the north and east parts of Sri Lanka in 1983. The majority were represented by the separatist Tamil United Liberation Front and the minority by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Several murders on both ends gave rise to more than 25 years of ethnic violence. Several peace talks failed over the years and back and forth attacks among the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities claimed an estimated 80 000 lives. The war was eventually declared over in 2009, when the last of (Tamil Tigers) rebel-held territory was reclaimed.

According to Amnesty International, President Rajapaksa has called for mass protests against the recommendations for investigation by a United Nations report on May 1. This report allegedly details allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war in early 2009, and that both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers violated international law, including committing war crimes.

Apart from the churches that would be celebrating Easter Sunday, the blasts targeted four hotels, including the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and the Cinnamon Grand in the capital Colombo.
Ahamad said there is a small percentage that has been causing trouble.

“Ninety-nine percent of the Sri Lankans are peace-loving people who live in harmony with their fellow ethnic communities. But there’s probably about 1% that has been very racist and created a lot of problems for minorities.”

There is now rising tension in the country that has for the past decade seen fairly peaceful co-existence between the various religions.

“Everybody is angry and scared. Minorities are even more scared thinking there will be backlash against them because social media has been provoking a lot of hatred at Muslims.”

Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry confirmed the nationalities of 11 foreigners killed, including three Indians, one Portuguese national, two Turkish nationals, three British nationals and two holding US and British nationalities. Nine foreigners were reported missing. Thirty-five foreigners have died in the blast from various countries, such as China, Hong Kong, Holland, Germany. Almost all the tourists are rushing to exit the country, so it will have a massive economic impact.

Sri Lanka’s government believes international terrorist networks were behind the bomb attacks. The motive is unknown, and no one has claimed responsibility.

“We suspect there are some foreign hands behind this because I don’t think we have the local expertise, even though we had liberation ties of (the Tigers) which mastered suicide bombings, they were never able to coordinate multiple bombings like this,” said Ahamad.

“There is certainly fear among the Muslim community because some information has come out that some Muslims are involved in this attack.

“The destruction is not what Sri Lanka cannot handle but to bring back the peace is going to be a challenge.” VOC

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