Fear, shock among Sri Lankan Muslims in aftermath of Buddhist mob violenceBy Iqbal Athas and Tim Hume, CNNUpdated 11:03 PM ET, Mon June 23, 2014In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan Muslim woman carries her daughter outside her burnt house after at least three Muslims were killed and 80 injured in clashes with Buddhists last month. The sectarian riots in and around the town of Aluthgama, in southern Sri Lanka, followed demonstrations by the hardline Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena, police said. Homes and shops were looted and burned.Hide Caption 1 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – Buddhist monk Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara, the general secretary and public face of the ultra-nationalist Sinhalese Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena, gave an inflammatory speech at a rally that preceded the violence. He is pictured here in 2013.Hide Caption 2 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosPhotos: deadly riots in Sri Lanka – A monk belonging to the group debates with a police officer at the Trade Ministry in Colombo in April.Hide Caption 3 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan Muslim woman walks past soldiers following clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in the town of Aluthgama.Hide Caption 4 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan resident surveys the damage to a charred Muslim-owned home.Hide Caption 5 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A soldier stands guard outside a smashed window.Hide Caption 6 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan residents survey the damage to a damaged Muslim-owned home.Hide Caption 7 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan Muslim man walks past ransacked shops in Aluthgama.Hide Caption 8 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan Muslim man inspects the remains of a tailor's shop. Rauff Hakeem, Sri Lanka's Justice Minister and himself a Muslim, said his party would weigh its future in the government according to the official response to the attacks. "I am ashamed I could not help my people," he said.Hide Caption 9 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Muslim woman in the aftermath of clashes in Aluthgama. The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka condemned the violence, which followed a rally by Buddhist hardliners days after an alleged altercation between a Muslim driver and a Buddhist monk and his driver.Hide Caption 10 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – Men point at blood on the floor of a home.Hide Caption 11 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – Shifna Abdul Kareem, a 16-year-old Muslim, surveys the damage to her burnt house in Adhikarigoda, a village in Aluthgama, following an outbreak of violence.Hide Caption 12 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – Police officers on a street in Aluthgama as shops burn. A curfew was put in place to prevent further violence.Hide Caption 13 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A girl looks at a burned house in Aluthgama.Hide Caption 14 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Muslim mother and child take in damage to their house.Hide Caption 15 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Muslim man talks on his phone while standing in what's left of his house.Hide Caption 16 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – A Muslim woman observes her vandalized house in Aluthgama.Hide Caption 17 of 18In pictures: Deadly riots in Sri Lanka 18 photosDeadly riots in Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan Muslims seek sanctuary following a rampage by Buddhist mobs that many blame the BBS for inciting.Hide Caption 18 of 18Story highlightsMuslims in Sri Lanka are fearful after a wave of deadly violence by Buddhist mobs SundayA hardline Buddhist nationalist group led by monks is accused of inciting the crowds at a rallyThe accused group, Bodu Bala Sena, denies any responsibility for the violenceA moderate monk who urged interfaith harmony has been abducted and assaulted, police sayIn the areas surrounding the southwest Sri Lankan town of Aluthgama, an idyllic coastal settlement popular with tourists, Muslims and Buddhists have lived side by side peacefully for generations.But a wave of deadly communal violence that followed a rally Sunday by hardline Buddhist nationalist monks has changed that."The house I owned was burnt down. My family has nowhere to go," Muhsin Shihab, a father of eight children, told CNN Tuesday.His family, which has been sheltering at a local mosque since being displaced by the rioting, hadn't eaten for a day and a half, he said.The rally, organized by the far-right Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), was called in response to an alleged altercation in the area between a group of young Muslims and a Buddhist monk and his driver on an important Buddhist religious holiday days earlier.Addressing the crowd of thousands Sunday, the BBS's leader, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, gave an inflammatory speech.Video footage from the event shows the orange-robed monk using derogatory terms for Muslims and, to approving roars from the crowd, vowing that if any Muslim laid a hand on a member of the Sinhalese majority -- let alone a monk -- that would "be the end" of them.After the rally, Buddhist mobs marched through Muslim neighborhoods, torching and destroying dozens of homes and shops, witnesses told CNN.Following consecutive nights of violence, in which local medical staff say at least four people were killed and sixteen seriously injured, those made homeless by the rioting were sheltering in the town's main mosque Tuesday, shell-shocked and fearful of what may come next.'A nightmare'Among them was Fasniya Fairooz, an 80-year-old grandmother of three, who was at home when the mob stormed into her house in Seenawatte, a local village comprised of Sinhalese and Muslims."We pleaded with the attackers not to harm us. They used abusive language," she said. "They took the Holy Quran and burnt it outside... Then they looted the house."Her family had nowhere to go, she said.Ahmed Rahamatulla, a father of four from Seenawatte, was also made homeless by the riots."I have lost all my belongings. My house was burnt down. All I own today are the clothes my children wear," he said."I don't know where to go from here. My children are all frightened and in a state of shock."The surrounding area is in lockdown in the aftermath of the rioting, the country's worst communal violence in years. Soldiers on armored troop carriers watch over once bustling streets; shutters are drawn on the charred remains of arson-hit stores.In a nearby house, U.S. citizen Rameeza Nizar, 47, found herself unexpectedly stranded in her bedridden mother's home during a visit from Washington D.C. for a family event."Every night has been a nightmare," she told CNN. "We have not slept for fear there would be attacks. We kept our lights switched off but remained together inside the house."'Cycle of fear'Ayoob Saja, a doctor at a local hospital and a Muslim, said his community was in a "cycle of fear" as a result of the violence, in which the vast majority of those treated for injuries were Muslims.He said three of the dead were Muslims, two of whom were fatally shot during the rampage on Sunday, and another who died of his injuries Tuesday.The fourth fatality was a Tamil who worked as a watchman on a Muslim-owned farm in the nearby town of Welipenna, and was attacked during continued violence on Monday night.Sixteen people had been seriously injured, he said, including a young man whose leg was amputated Wednesday, while hundreds of others sustained lesser injuries. More than 80 homes were also destroyed in the rioting, he said.While a heavy military presence has been brought in to enforce a curfew and prevent further violence, it has given little comfort to the community, he said."The armed forces are supporting the majority," he said, referring to the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese who account for about three-quarters of Sri Lanka's population. About 10% of the country is Muslim, according to the 2011 census."They are guarding the majority people who attack our people."The group blamed for inciting the violence, the Bodu Bala Sena, has denied any responsibility.Contacted by CNN, Gnanasara said he was unavailable to comment. But Dilantha Vithanage, the BBS's chief executive, told CNN "we categorically deny any involvement by our membership in reported attacks."He said the earlier assault on the monk on a Buddhist holy day had upset people in the Sinhalese community.Referring to Gnanasara's speech, he said: "It is true our priest spoke in strong words. He blessed the people after chanting verses. He preached to them to conduct themselves peacefully."The allegations against BBS, he said, were "an attempt to bring disrespect to Buddhist clergy and Buddhism."Tacit political approval?Buddhist radicalism has been on the rise in Sri Lanka, much as in Myanmar, where a monk-led Buddhist nationalist movement has been blamed for drumming up deadly mob violence against minority Muslim groups.On Thursday, a prominent moderate Buddhist monk who had campaigned for interfaith harmony was found bound and dumped on a road on the outskirts of Colombo, after apparently having been abducted and assaulted, police said. The alleged victim, Wataraka Vijitha Thero, had previously been publicly threatened by Gnanasara during an interfaith press conference held with Muslim leaders in April, a police spokesman said. He was found with cuts to his body Thursday and had been hospitalized.Many in Sri Lanka, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa's own political allies within government, are critical of the authorities for allowing the communal violence to occur.Mangala Samaraweera, an opposition lawmaker for the southern Matara District, told CNN that he believed the Bodu Bala Sena has the tacit support of the Rajapaksa government, a view shared by many Sri Lankans. Rajapaksa has publicly denied any link.The Bodu Bala Sena has largely been able to operate with impunity, with previous attacks attributed to the organization going unpunished. Rauff Hakeem, Sri Lanka's Minister of Justice and the leader the country's largest Muslim political party, said in parliament that police had been asked to stop the rally but had failed to heed the request. He also blamed BBS for inciting the "orgy of attacks against Muslims," and told CNN he was weighing his party's future in the government -- made up of an alliance of parties -- pending the official response to the violence.Mohamed Aslam, the local lawmaker for Hakeem's Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, also blamed police for allowing the rally to take place, and said he had nearly been shot in the aftermath."Muslims and Sinhalese in this area have been leading peaceful lives helping each other. This is the first time police have allowed such a meeting, where mobs were incited, to take place," he told CNN. "The meeting on Sunday by the Bodu Bala Sena roused religious sentiments. Mobs went on the attack. The police looked the other way."Police: We took precautionsBut police Senior Superintendent Roshan Silva, in charge of the district where the violence took place, denied any police responsibility for the violence. "We took all precautions. The allegation that we were inactive is false. We had deployed police all around."Police said 55 arrests have been made over the violence, while probes by the criminal investigation department and Colombo crimes division look into larger questions around criminal culpability for allowing the rally to proceed.A group of more than 300 concerned Sri Lankans, including academics, lawyers and journalists, signed an open letter condemning the BBS's "hate speech," saying they believed the violence was directly linked to the inflammatory comments by Gnanasara. "We therefore call upon the authorities to take immediate steps to arrest and charge him for the deaths and destruction in the area," read the letter.Returning to the country after a G77 meeting of developing nations in Bolivia, Rajapaksa visited an affected Muslim town and vowed that an "impartial inquiry would be held and those responsible punished." He made no reference to the BBS.Many Muslim businesses in Sri Lanka's capital were shut Thursday in protest at the violence.READ: 3 Muslims killed in Buddhist mob attacksCNN Recommends AIRASIA CRASH10 questions about AirAsia tragedyWith the discovery of debris from the AirAsia plane, investigators move closer to discovering what happened. What are the key questions, and what comes next?AirAsia disaster's lasting impactThe growth of AirAsia has been a regional aviation success story. 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