Days after suicide bombings in Sri Lanka were blamed on Muslim extremists, Muslims and Christians living in a hard hit neighborhood near an attacked church say tension has risen within the community.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In Sri Lanka, authorities are still hunting for suspects in last Sunday’s deadly bombings at churches and hotels. They’re seeking some 140 people thought to have links to the Islamic State. The country’s prime minister says some of the people at large may be planning more attacks. NPR’s Michael Sullivan visited a neighborhood in the capital, Colombo, that was hit hard by the bombings and is still very much on edge.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: When a suicide bomber struck St. Anthony’s church in the Kochchikade neighborhood, leaving dozens dead, John Ison Fernando was supposed to be at that service. But his nephew had other plans.
JOHN ISON FERNANDO: With God’s grace, we didn’t attend the Mass at 8 o’clock in the morning. We went to the midnight mass. Somehow, God saved us.
SULLIVAN: He says St. Anthony’s church in particular and the neighborhood in general have long been a symbol of interfaith and interethnic harmony.
FERNANDO: We are all friends. Muslims, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu. We all do business together. We all gather for celebrations over New Year, Christmas or anything. We all get together.
SULLIVAN: He says he still feels that way even after last Sunday’s bombings. But not everyone in the neighborhood agrees.
JAMES CLIFFORD FRANCIS: We cannot trust them now because we were like families. We cannot trust our own people who are staying here now, the Muslims.
SULLIVAN: That’s James Clifford Francis. He’s retired, an ethnic Tamil Christian, married to a Sinhalese Christian.
FRANCIS: We were like one family, actually. We fed the Muslims. They come to our house. They have, we have parties and all those things. We were living happily.
SULLIVAN: You’re telling me now that trust is shattered?
FRANCIS: Yes, sir.
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SULLIVAN: That sentiment helps explain why there were no services today at the 200-year-old Kochchikade Jumma Mosque. Some other mosques in the city did open despite pleas from the government and religious leaders not to. But Kochchikade Jumma Mosque is just a few hundred yards away from St. Anthony’s church. Mosque chairman H.S. Nawazdeen.
H S NAWAZDEEN: (Through interpreter) The congregation is staying home and praying because we’re afraid that the community, because it’s grieving, that grief could turn to anger if they see Muslims.
SULLIVAN: Mohammad Ajmir runs a snack stall just outside the mosque, one he says his Christian neighbors used to stop at after Sunday services at St. Anthony’s. He says there are about 200 Muslim families in the area, and almost all of them, he says, are lying low.
MOHAMMAD AJMIR: (Foreign language spoken).
SULLIVAN: “Since the bombing,” he says, “they’re afraid to come out of their own homes because they’re not sure what the other people in the community will say. They look at us suspiciously if we do,” he says. “So yes, we’re afraid.”
(SOUNDBITE OF POTS CLATTERING, CROSSTALK)
SULLIVAN: A few-hundred yards away, one of the neighbors points me to the house of a woman whose 28-year-old son died in Sunday’s attack at St. Anthony’s. The mother is too distraught to speak, but her sister, Davidmalsiya Manna says the family doesn’t blame their Muslim neighbors for what happened.
DAVIDMALSIYA MANNA: (Foreign language spoken).
SULLIVAN: “No. We can’t hate anyone at this point,” she says. “We’ve lost him because of the actions of others, not those in our neighborhood. At the end of the day,” she says, “my nephew went to church, and he didn’t come back. All we can feel is grief,” she says. “There’s no point in hating anyone because hate will not bring him back.” Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Colombo.
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