Sri Lanka’s Muslim ministers resign over Easter suicide bombing allegations

Colombo: Nine Muslim ministers holding top positions in the Sri Lankan government resigned on Monday to allow authorities to investigate allegations against some of them on links to an Islamic extremist group which was blamed for the deadly Easter suicide bombings.

The Muslim politicians in the government also protested what they term the government’s inability to ensure the safety of the Muslim minority who constitute 9 per cent of the island’s 21 million population.

Following the April 21 attacks that claimed 258 lives, some Muslim politicians representing the government came under criticism for their alleged support extended to the rising Muslim militancy.

Industry and Commerce Minister Rishath Bathiyutheen was accused of supporting the ISIS linked local Islamist group National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) which carried out the attacks.

The Sinhala majority nationalists were demanding the sacking of Industry and Commerce Minister Bathiyutheen. The Opposition had moved a vote of no confidence against Bathiyutheen in Parliament accusing him of aiding and abetting the NTJ.

There are 19 Muslims among the 225-member Parliament and nine of them held Cabinet, state and deputy ministerial positions.

“Until security of the people is ensured and until investigations are done by the police’s Crime Investigations Department (CID) is finalised we will stay as government back benchers,” main Muslim party leader Rauff Hakeem told reporters.

We took this decision as a responsible community who is keen on ensuring reconciliation and peace in the country,” Kabir Hashim, a senior minister, said.

He said since the Easter Sunday attacks, the Muslim community had volunteered to give information on the NTJ.

Hakeem said the Muslim community is concerned over the arrests of some innocent Muslims for alleged connections to the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that claimed 258 lives.

In the wake of the bombings, majority Sinhala community mobs attacked Muslim-owned properties in towns north of the capital killing one Muslim man and leaving hundreds of homes, shops and mosques vandalised.

The Muslim ministers quit their posts after two Muslim provincial governors resigned Monday after thousands of people, including majority Buddhist community monks, launched a protest in the pilgrim city of Kandy, demanding their sacking for allegedly supporting Islamist extremists responsible for the Easter suicide bombings.

Their resignations were demanded by a Buddhist monk parliamentarian, Athuraliye Rathana. He ended his 4-day hunger strike held in the central town of Kandy after the announcement of the governors’ resignations came.

Hakeem the main Muslim party leader said that police must hold a proper inquiry and punish anyone if the terror group had been supported by them.