Muslims leave Sri Lanka govt to allow probe of terror claim

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Sri Lanka's Muslim cabinet members Rishard Bathiudeen, center and A.H.M. Fowsie, right, leave after addressing media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, June 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — Eleven Muslim politicians resigned from top government posts in Sri Lanka on Monday, saying they wanted to enable the government to investigate allegations that some of them had links to the extremists who carried out the deadly Easter attacks.

Nine Cabinet and junior ministers and two provincial governors stepped down days after a Buddhist monk began a fast demanding the expulsion of three political leaders whom he said were linked to the local militant group that killed over 250 people in the bombings at churches and hotels.

The resignations of the ministers will not affect the government’s stability because they have pledged to continue to support the government as backbench lawmakers.

Rauf Hakeem, a lawmaker for Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said he and the others who resigned asked the government to investigate the allegations and allow Muslim political leaders to vindicate themselves amid an ongoing anti-Muslim hate campaign in Sri Lanka.

Muslims have seen their shops and home burned, been harassed in public places and subjected to hate comments since the April 21 suicide bombings, which were carried out by a local group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

“We as members of the Muslim community represented in the government holding a variety of positons … have taken a decision today to resign from all the positions and request the government to expedite any inquiry against anyone among us and bring it to a conclusion without delay,” Hakeem said.

“If any of us are found guilty, we are prepared to face whatever punishment for that, but the innocent people should not be punished,” he said.

Hakeem said that Sri Lanka’s Muslim community has cooperated with law enforcement officials since the attacks, and that many have been arrested on trivial matters. He urged the government to quickly conclude their cases.

The Rev. Athuraliya Rathana, a Buddhist monk, started fasting on Saturday to demand the dismissal of three Muslim politicians whom he accused of being linked to the terrorist group that carried out the Easter attacks. Shops were shut and buses stopped services in some towns on Monday in support of the fast.

The monk gave up his fast after he was informed of the politicians’ resignations.

Seven suicide bombers from a local group known as National Thowheed Jammath blew themselves up at three churches and three tourist hotels on Easter Sunday. Some 500 people were also wounded in the attacks.