09/03/2021, 15.03
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Auckland attack and Sri Lanka’s radical Islam

Police in New Zealand killed a Sri Lanka man after he stabbed six people inspired by jihadi ideology. In the South Pacific nation, Muslims are a fraction of the local Sri Lankan community, compared to over 9 per cent of the population in their country of origin. Extremism is growing as evinced by the 2019 Easter Sunday tragedy, also fuelled by tensions with Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority.

Wellington (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Police in New Zealand killed a Sri Lankan-born extremist after he stabbed at least six people in an Auckland supermarket.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said the attacker had been in New Zealand for 10 years and acted on his own, inspired by the ideology of the Islamic State group.

The man, whose identity have not yet been disclosed, had been under surveillance for at least five years.

According to the 2018 New Zealand census, 16,830 ethnic Sri Lankans (Sinhalese, Tamil Burgher) live in the South Pacific nation, most of them Buddhist.

Informally known as “Sriwis”, most New Zealand Sri Lankans were born outside the country.  About 4 per cent of them are Muslim, compared to 9 per cent in their country of origin.

In Sri Lanka, Muslims are heterogenous, sometimes at odds with each as evinced by past clashes between extremist groups and Sufis.

Although blamed on a “lone wolf”, today's Auckland attack puts the spotlight on jihadi groups within New Zealand’s Muslim community.

After the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka against churches and hotels, killing over 300 people and injuring 500, the Sri Lankan government adopted anti-terrorism measures, among other things, banning Thowheeth Jamaath, a local jihadi group that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

However, the special commission of investigation into the 2019 attacks also recommended the dissolution of Buddhist extremist groups, which, according to experts, had contributed to the radicalisation of some Muslims.

Certain observers argued instead that terrorists attacked three churches and three hotels because their ideology of global jihad sees Western institutions as the greatest enemy.

After the end of the civil war in 2009, the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force, BBS) carried out a series of anti-Muslim attacks for which it was never held responsible.

Despite calls by Card Malcolm Ranjith to have the organisation outlawed, the government of Maithripala Sirisena, in power at the time of the 2019 attacks, did not include the BBS among the banned groups.

In April of this year, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa – who was elected in November 2019 thanks to the support of Buddhist organisations and promising justice – outlawed 11 jihadi groups and banned women from wearing the burqa, a “sign of religious extremism” that has a “direct impact on national security”.

In addition, the Sri Lankan government is considering closing at least 1,000 unregistered Islamic schools (madrasas).

It is unclear whether these measures will stimulate radicalisation, but such steps risk increasing resentment within the Muslim community, which, if exploited by jihadist groups, could exacerbate sectarian tensions.

One fact is clear, most poor Muslim families send their children to Islamic schools because they cannot afford to enroll them in public schools, which fuels a vicious circle of marginalisation.

In the capital Colombo alone, some around 5,000 children fail to be admitted in government schools each year.

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