Sri Lankan police enforce curfew after violence against mosques

It is the worst outbreak of violence in the country since the Easter bombings.
It is the worst outbreak of violence in the country since the Easter bombings. Photo credit: AAP.

Sri Lankan police have fired tear gas at mobs attacking mosques and shops owned by Muslims and imposed a nationwide curfew after the worst outbreak of sectarian violence since the Easter bombings.

Islamist militants targeted churches and hotels, most of them in Colombo, killing more than 250 people in an attack claimed by Islamic State and fuelling fears of a backlash against the island nation's minority Muslims.

Residents in Muslim parts of Sri Lanka's North Western Province said mobs had attacked mosques and damaged shops and businesses owned by Muslims for a second day on Monday.

"There are hundreds of rioters, police and army are just watching. They have burnt our mosques and smashed many shops owned by Muslims," a resident of Kottampitiya area told Reuters by telephone, asking not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

"When we try to come out of our house, police tell us to stay inside."

Police imposed a nationwide curfew from 9pm to 4am local time, spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.

Authorities also imposed a temporary ban on social media networks and messaging apps including WhatsApp after a clash in another part of the country was traced to a dispute on Facebook.

A police source said police had fired tear gas to disperse mobs in some places in North Western Province.

Muslims make up nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 22 million people, who are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists.

A Reuters reporter saw a mob of several dozen young Sinhalese men wielding sticks and rods in what appeared to be a stand-off in the town of Madulla in North Western Province.

Glass was strewn across the Abrar mosque in the town of Kiniyama that was attacked overnight. All the windows and doors of the soft-pink building were smashed and copies of the Koran were thrown onto the floor.

A mosque official said the attacks were triggered when several people, including some Buddhist monks, demanded a search of the main building after soldiers had inspected a 43 hectare lake nearby.

Authorities suspect lakes and wells are being used as hiding places to conceal weapons.