New Delhi: For the first twenty-four hours after the deadliest attack that killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds, Sri Lanka remained calm and controlled. Even as rumours of various extremist organisations, including those with Buddhist and Islamic backgrounds, being responsible for the Easter massacre did the rounds, people lined up outside hospitals to donate blood and help as much as they could.
On Monday, however, the Sri Lankan government confirmed that the attacks were carried out by the Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamaat (STJD), a radical Salafist Islamic group with its origin in Kattankudy, a Muslim majority town in Batticaloa district. Now, the Muslims in Sri Lanka are holding on to the hope that there would be no untoward incident in the near future.
Hilmey Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said his council’s first priority was to restore the faith in people.
Speaking to News18, Ahamed said, “Trust and faith of our people are shaken. Majority of the Muslims don’t subscribe to any kind of violence, even when they were expelled from the North and all the problems they went through during the 30-year conflict. Now, after years, you wake up to such a horrific massacre. We have to do everything possible to restore the faith in the Muslim community.”
Muslims were living in a fear of backlash, he added. “In fact, even with the political leadership, there is a fear of something grave happening over the next couple of days,” Ahamed said.
He also pointed out how he had brought up the case of the STJD with the authorities years ago. “It was a very small organisation if at all, or a one-man show. There were posts on YouTube and social media spreading hate. We knew about this person and informed the authorities three years back. We informed not because we knew that they were capable of such large-scale violence but because we felt that the outfit was preaching hate,” he said, adding that the level at which the outfit carried out the bloodshed was something that neither he nor the Council could have expected.
A resident of Colombo, on condition of anonymity, said that the community was more in danger than ever. “This is not a small-scale incident. It won’t be a surprise if there is a response to this in some way or the other. All that we can do is either pray for it to not happen or if it does, it would not draw parallels with what our country is grappling with. It is only been a decade of peace for us after years of violence. We can’t withstand another widespread violent phase,” the resident said.
Ahamed further said that it was close to impossible for the STJD to have carried out this attack on its own. “Even with the almost 30-year-long war, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could not pull off something like this, despite the experience that they had. How is it that such an amateur organization has undertaken such an act of violence on such a large scale?” he asked.
It has been a decade since Sri Lanka recovered from the armed conflict between the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamil community. The civil war, which killed more than 100,000 people, ended when Mahinda Rajapaksa cracked down upon the LTTE in 2009. But since then, there has been constant friction between the two groups. In late February last year, Sri Lanka saw anti-Muslim riots spread from Ampara to Kandy till the series of flare-ups ended on March 2. Muslim mosques were attacked by Buddhist extremists and in response, Buddhists temples and Sinhalese. The government imposed a state of Emergency in the country and exercised a massive crackdown, leading to more than 80 arrests.