Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a Saudi-educated scholar for what they claim are links with Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday bombings, throwing a spotlight on the rising influence of Salafi-Wahhabi Islam on the island’s Muslims.
Mohamed Aliyar, 60, is the founder of the Centre for Islamic Guidance, which boasts a mosque, a religious school and a library in Zahran’s hometown of Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated city on Sri Lanka’s eastern shores.
“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 in the southern town of Hambantota for the group of suicide bombers who attacked hotels and churches on Easter, killing over 250 people.
N.K. Masliya says she has been visiting a neighbourhood clinic in the northwestern Sri Lankan village of Rathmalyaya for over five years, always dressed in a black abaya - a cloak-like over-garment worn by some Muslim women.
But when Masliya went to the clinic nearly three weeks after Islamic militants killed over 250 people in churches and hotels across the country, she said things had changed.
The 36-year-old said she was in a queue with her five-year-old daughter when a nurse told her to remove her abaya, saying: “What if you blow us up with your bomb?”
Muslim groups say they have received dozens of complaints from across Sri Lanka about people from the community being harassed at workplaces, including government offices, hospitals and in public transport since the Easter Sunday attacks.
A week ago, Sri Lankan tourist guide Ricky Costa was preparing for a typically easy Sunday ferrying backpackers between Colombo’s tea shops and beach bars in his canary-yellow rickshaw. Then the blasts began. The coordinated suicide bombings by Islamist militants at hotels and churches killed more than 250 people and sent shockwaves through an Indian Ocean island state that had enjoyed relative peace since a civil war ended a decade ago.
President Maithripala Sirisena has announced a total overhaul of the security establishment, blaming them for failing to communicate several warnings they had about potential attacks, including one from India hours before the first bomb.
Since Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka won a 26-year conflict against mostly Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists, a well-resourced military has failed to adapt to shifting security threats, the sources said.
“The government was asleep. The military was asleep. They’ve been asleep for a long time,” said Costa, perching on his rickshaw as a suspicious policeman peered inside.
Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday suspended parliament till Nov. 16, a day after removing Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and replacing him with former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in a surprise move that signals escalating political tensions in the South Asian nation.
“The president has prorogued the parliament,” cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters.