Police unearth 17 safe houses for bombers in Sri Lanka

A soldier walks past a damaged shop after a mob attack in Minuwangoda. An overnight curfew ensured there was no repeat of Monday’s violence against Muslims. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019

Police unearth 17 safe houses for bombers in Sri Lanka

  • Muslims welcome amendment to ruling on wearing abaya
  • The NTJ-run safe houses and seven terrorist training centers have been sealed

COLOMBO: National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), which was responsible for the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, had been running 17 safe houses and seven training centers for the suicide bombers, Ruwan Gunasekera, a police spokesman, said on Wednesday.

He said NTJ, along with two other organizations, had been proscribed by an extraordinary government gazette notification issued in Colombo on a directive from Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

Gunasekera said the safe houses and training centers had been sealed. He said the discoveries were based on information provided by members of the public.

The Easter Sunday suicide bomb blasts killed more than 250 people and injured more than 500 people, while Monday’s riots against Muslims and their properties resulted in one person’s death and caused heavy damage to Muslims shops and workplaces.

Meanwhile, the government made an amendment to a ruling on women’s attire — for the abaya — saying that women could only show their face from the forehead to the lower chin when in public. Last week’s notification indicated that women should show their full face, from forehead to lower chin, without covering the ears.

Following the earlier notification, Western Province Gov. Azath Salley made a representation to the island’s president urging him to amend the rule to allow Muslim women to cover their ears in public. “I am very happy that we are successful in convincing the government about our culture,” Salley said.

Ismeth Fathima, principal of the China Fort Girls’ school, told Arab News that this was a welcome move and Muslim women preferred to wear this form of hijab and abaya, which is more modest than showing the ears.  

Monday’s violence in various parts of the island severely impacted daily life. The most affected town was Minuwangoda, 40 km from the capital. About 42 Muslim shops, including restaurants, were burnt down by hooligans in retaliation for the suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday.

Acting Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena, who visited Minuwangoda on Wednesday, told the media that it was a shock to see so many facilities vandalized by hooligans. “We will not allow this to recur,” the minister said. Those who were responsible would have to pay the price for it, he said. 

Abu Khalid, the owner of a jewelry shop that was burnt down, told Arab News that it was his sole investment. “It is my bread and butter, I am used to an affluent life and now I am a pauper,” he said.

Sheikh Sulaiman, imam of a neighboring mosque in Galloluwa, said that everyone was saying his mosque would be the next target. “I am afraid to sleep inside the mosque,” he said.

Minuwangoda is now heavily policed. Patrol cars are patrolling the township to provide confidence and security for Muslims.

No-deal Brexit looms as race for new British PM wraps up

Updated 17 July 2019

No-deal Brexit looms as race for new British PM wraps up

  • Many lawmakers, business community fear dire economic outcome
  • A majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons are opposed to a no-deal Brexit

LONDON: The battle to become Britain's next prime minister enters the home straight on Wednesday with both candidates hardening their positions on Brexit, putting the future government on a collision course with Brussels.
Ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace Theresa May, and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, are now both referring to Britain's departure with no overall deal in place as a realistic prospect.
The business community and many lawmakers fear dire economic consequences from a no-deal Brexit, which would lead to immediate trade tariffs for some sectors including the automotive industry.
Johnson and Hunt are taking part in a final question-and-answer session later on Wednesday before the result of the vote by Conservative Party members is announced next Tuesday.
The new party leader will be confirmed as prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II on the following day.
Britain has twice delayed its scheduled departure from the European Union after 46 years of membership as May tried and failed to get her deal with Brussels through parliament.
The two candidates vying to replace her have vowed to scrap a "backstop" provision in the agreement that Brussels insisted upon to keep the Irish border open.
Their latest attacks on the measure during a debate on Monday prompted a plunge in the value of the British pound.
The currency fell again Wednesday to its lowest level against the US dollar in over two years.
"The tougher stance from both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in terms of their rhetoric on Brexit is clearly weighing on the pound," said market analyst Neil Wilson.
"Make no mistake, this decline in the pound is down to traders pricing in a higher chance of a no-deal exit."
The backstop has proved a key stumbling block in the Brexit process.
The measure would keep open the post-Brexit border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member the Republic of Ireland whatever the outcome of negotiations over the future relationship between London and Brussels.
Johnson announced early in his campaign that he would not sign up to it and would pursue a no-deal Brexit if required, leading his opponent to follow suit.
However, European leaders have been adamant that the backstop must remain a part of any divorce deal, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who will become European Commission president in November, said the draft withdrawal agreement provided "certainty".
She also broached a possible further delay to Britain's departure, saying: "I stand ready for a further extension of the withdrawal date, should more time be required for a good reason."
Johnson has pledged that under his leadership, Britain will leave "do or die" on the current deadline of October 31.
A majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons are opposed to a no-deal Brexit, but attempts to pass legislation blocking the scenario have failed.
Reports this week suggested Johnson is considering plans to end the current session of parliament in early October, leaving MPs powerless.
Finance Minister Philip Hammond said Wednesday it was "terrifying" that some Brexit supporters thought that no deal would leave Britain better off.
And in a speech in London, May said the "best route" for Britain was to leave with a deal.
Delivering her last major address, she railed against the trend towards "absolutism" in Britain and abroad, and urged her successor to compromise.
"Whatever path we take must be sustainable for the long term, so that delivering Brexit brings our country back together. That has to mean some kind of compromise," she said.