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Sri Lanka's Muslims face a furious counter-attack

NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka – Auranzeb Zabi cooked rice at a friend's house on Wednesday when he heard angry yelling outside, peering out the window, and seeing a Sri Lankan mob wearing iron bars.

One day after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that killed more than 350 people, Muslims in some areas of Sri Lanka faced an increasing backlash.

The mob surrounded the house, Mr. Zabi, a Pakistani refugee who has been living in Sri Lanka for two years. Years ago he said he had grabbed his two children, ran into the yard and ran across two walls before he got one Army checkpoint reached.

There the mob caught up with him, he said, and gave a hard blow by asking the soldiers to let them kill him. Hours later, Mr. Zabi still looked scared.

"When you face 100 people," he said, and then his voice softened and he could not finish the sentence. His eyes hardened.

"They even beat my children," he said.

In the city of Negombo, where an attack on a church killed more than 100 people during Easter services, gangs of Christian men went door to door, breaking windows, knocking down doors, hauling people into the street, slapping them in the face and then threaten to kill them, said dozens of residents. No deaths were reported, but many Muslims fear it is only a matter of time.

When one of the bombers' goals is to kill hundreds of innocent men, women, and children in hotels and churches on Easter Sunday, it should raise new religious hatred. In Sri Lanka, this can now happen in some areas.

Despite the pending silence of religious leaders of all faiths, the tension rises and the fear drags on this island nation like a fast-moving shadow. Many Muslims in different parts of the country say they are lying deeply and shun public places.

Until this week Sri Lanka did not have much to do with Christian-Muslim violence. The two faiths are small minorities: the country is about 7 percent Christian, 10 percent Muslim, 13 percent Hindu and 70 percent Buddhist.

In Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war, religion was not a driving factor, the majority of the Sinhala minority and the minority Tamils ​​almost broke up the country.

During the war years, many Muslim men entered the government's intelligence service because they were known for their language skills in the three main languages ​​of Sri Lanka – Sinhala, Tamil and –

But after the civil war ended in 2009, militant Buddhism began to rise. Some observers said it was as if powerful forces in Sri Lankan politics were looking for a new enemy to fight. Strictly aligned Buddhist monks targeted churches and mosques, priests and imams, often with the tacit support of security services.

While Muslims bore the brunt of these attacks, Christians also suffered and the two communities were essentially the same side. However, this informal alliance was seriously challenged by Sunday's attacks, which the authorities claimed were carried out by Muslim extremists, especially Christians.

In a moment everything changed again, said Malik Farhan, another Pakistani refugee.

"We are no longer safe in Sri Lanka," he said.

Many Muslims have tried to mourn Christians for offering food and friendship, but the effort was complicated. The feelings are so harsh that a priest ordered the members of a mosque to stay away from the funerals.

When Christian gangs raided their neighborhoods on Wednesday, hundreds of Pakistani Muslims, including Farhan and Zabi, first rushed to a police station and then to a mosque. Soldiers and police guarded the mosque gates and checked the identification of the visitors. Nevertheless, the elders felt uncomfortable about the situation.

In the late afternoon, a series of buses came out of the mosque, filling all the squares and crowding the people in the corridors. Immediately she moved a whole community of Muslims to a small town that had no one ever lived.

The Pakistani refugees are easy targets. They look different, speak a different language and were already on an insecure basis. They lived in Sri Lanka as guests of the government, while the refugee authorities worked out longer-term resettlement plans.

But they are hardly the only Muslims who are afraid. 19659002] About two hours away, in the city of Bandaragama, Mohamed Iqbal, a Muslim like Sri Lanka like everyone else, flinched when he looked at his shoe store.

He had been in shoe fashion for fifteen years and a few dollars each month he earned supported his wife, three grown sons and two grandchildren. But shoe fashion does not exist anymore.

On the night of the suicide bombings it was burned down by the fire – "obviously revenge," said a neighboring shopkeeper. On the floor was a stone with which you could smash the lock and open the shutter shutter. Inside, it still smelled like char.

"Our religious faith could not be different from the Islamic state," said Iqbal's son Ifaz. "But now everyone looks at us as if we were the ones who bombed the churches."

Sri Lanka is a complicated tapestry of ethnicity and religion. Many Muslims said they got used to discrimination in the background, even in peaceful times.

"Say you go to a bench and someone sees your beard," said Mr. Ifaz. "They could keep you waiting, even if they did not have to."

In June 2014, religious fanatics exploded after years of dehumanizing speech by Buddhist monks with hard lines. Mobs of young Buddhist men attacked a Muslim neighborhood in a southern city, burning houses, killing at least three Muslims and sending scares to almost every Muslim household in Sri Lanka.

Policemen were accused of being there and sometimes even helping the Buddhist mobs. The Iqbal family wonders if the same thing will happen again.

On Wednesday, the authorities downplayed reports of violence and said no one had been seriously injured. The police said they have increased security around mosques and in Muslim areas and tried to reduce tension.

"But you know," said Mr. Ifaz. "The night our business was burned there was a curfew. Maybe the police were there. "

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