Police impose curfew on Sri Lankan town after mosques attacked

Christians attacked mosques and Muslim-owned businesses in Chilaw after what they believed was a threat on Facebook.

    Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency since the suicide bombings in April that killed more than 250 people [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]
    Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency since the suicide bombings in April that killed more than 250 people [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

    Police have imposed a curfew in the Sri Lankan town Chilaw after a dispute between Christians and Muslims, that began on Facebook, turned violent.

    Mobs threw stones at mosques and Muslim-owned stores on Sunday after residents believed a posting on the social media site was a threat to Christians. 

    Residents in the mainly Christian town 80km north of the capital Colombo, beat the man they believed was responsible for the Facebook post. Police said he had been arrested. 

    "A police curfew has been imposed in Chilaw Police area with immediate effect until 6am tomorrow to control the tense situation," police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told the Reuters news agency. The police later said the curfew would be lifted at 4am local time (22:30 GMT on Sunday) on Monday.

    Sri Lankan troops had fired shots into the air to halt the violence.

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    'Scared of the night' 

    "They pelted stones at three mosques and some Muslim-owned shops. Now the situation has calmed down, but we are scared of the night," one local Muslim man who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Reuters.

    One mosque suffered extensive damage, he added.

    Tensions have been running high after Muslim suicide bombers blew themselves up in three churches and four hotels on April 21, Easter Sunday, killing 257 people. 

    While the country's acting police chief Chandana Wickramaratn said last week that all those involved in the attacks are either dead or in custody, some Sri Lankans are concerned there may still be attackers at large.

    A week ago in Negombo, where more than 100 people were killed during Easter prayers, a violent clash erupted between local Muslims and Christians after a traffic dispute.

    Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency since the suicide bombings. Security forces and police have been given sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

    One of the latest to be arrested was Mohamed Aliyar, Saudi-educated scholar. Police claim he had links with Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the bombings.

    "Information has been revealed that the suspect arrested had a close relationship with ... Zahran and had been operating financial transactions," said a police statement late on Friday.

    The statement said Aliyar was "involved" with training the group of suicide bombers in the southern town of Hambantota.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies