PASYALA, Sri Lanka, April 25, (AP): After fleeing their homes in Pakistan over militant attacks and government persecution, hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims felt they finally found peace in Sri Lanka as they sought resettlement across the world.
Then came the Easter bombings that killed over 350 people, many Christians praying at church, and suddenly they were targeted again. They say Sri Lankans suspicious of their beards, their little-known faith and nationalities shouted at some, throwing stones and hitting them with sticks. Others saw their homes attacked.
Now nearly 200 huddle inside their mosque in Negombo and more than 500 sought shelter in the small town of Pasyala, 30 kms (20 miles) away – just one sign of the fear pervading the Muslim community across this multiethnic island off the southern tip of India. Activists say some Muslim youths have disappeared, perhaps arrested by tightlipped security forces, while others stay at home, fearful the bombings will spark retaliation from either the government or angry mobs in a nation where interreligious violence can strike.
“The people in Pakistan attacked us and say we’re not Muslims,” said Tariq Ahmed, a 58-year-old Ahmadi who fl ed his home. “Then in Sri Lanka, people attack us because they say we are Muslims.” Sunday’s coordinated suicide bombings targeted three churches and three hotels, killing at least 359 people and wounding 500 more.
Authorities have blamed a local group, National Towheed Jamaat, previously only known for vandalizing Buddhist statues and the extremist online sermons of its leader, alternately named Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi. But by Tuesday, the Islamic State group had asserted it carried out the assault, bolstering its claim by publishing images of Zahran and others pledging loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi.
The Ahmadi Muslims say the harassment only grew more amplified in the days after the attack, fueled by a mistaken sense that since they came from Pakistan, they too must be like the extremists. But the Ahmadi themselves have fl ed decades of persecution in Pakistan.
Ahmadis believe another Islamic Prophet, Ahmad, appeared in the 19th century, a view at odds with the fundamental Islamic principle that Muhammad was the final messenger sent by God. So far, police have conducted raids and made arrest, but have been careful not to identify suspects or areas perhaps out of the fear of stoking more anger. But even as mosques hang banners supporting the government and denouncing the attack, activists say some Muslim youth have been disappeared, likely detained by authorities.