Negombo clashes
Clashes occurred in Negombo, Sri Lanka days after the Easter attacks Image Credit: Supplied

  • Dubai expat video calls wife as clashes in Negombo occur
  • He is fearful about his family's safety 
  • Social media platforms are blocked in the town
  • Some people say the clashes began as a personal issue between two groups

Dubai: It was a Sunday night, and Dubai resident Mohammad M. was at home, he suddenly saw his phone ring - a video call from his wife who lives in the town of Negombo in Sri Lanka. This was no ordinary call, he told Gulf News as he recounted the first call on the night of May 5: “She was crying as she said: ‘I heard we might get attacked, I will call you back. Don’t try calling me, we are going to switch the lights off. If the phone rings or lights up, they will know we are inside’. And then she hung up.”

Stressful situation

The call ended so quickly, all Mohammad could do was wait for her next update. He didn’t know if his wife and two girls, one aged 10 and the other just a year old, were safe.

Soon after, there was another video call: “This time she was screaming, as were my two children. They looked distraught and asked me to fly home, thousands of miles to Sri Lanka to ‘save them’.”

Mohammad recalled how the family informed him about the attacks on their house and neighbourhood homes in Negombo.

Negombo clashes
Mohammad M. said that his family's house was attacked in Negombo Image Credit: Supplied

Mohammad, who works as an operations supervisor in Dubai, said: “A group of people came with swords and stones to destroy our property. At least 25 houses were affected my family told me.”

According to Mohammad, the rioters were banging on doors of households and entering their homes to destroy their property. However, Mohammad said that no one is sure who the attackers were.

Media hushed

The video call continued as did the tension. He added: “The attackers’ faces were covered with cloth, to hide their identities.”

Emphasising that not enough was being done, he added: “No one [media] is covering the violence and authorities are not cooperating.”

According to an AFP report, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a statement the government will compensate those who lost property in the night-time clashes.

Mohammad also said that his other relatives were also affected: “My uncle’s house was very badly destroyed. They came in tuk-tuks and destroyed the property,” he said.

Mohammad M. said that the rioters arrived on tuk-tuks Image Credit: Supplied

Social media down

According to news reports social media and chat platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp are not working in the area.

According to a report by Reuters the government reimposed a ban on such platforms to “stop the spread of rumours after the communal violence started”.

In another tweet, @SriLankaTweet added a press release from Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence: “Regulations still effective in Sri Lanka, stern legal actions against individuals spreading hate speech, spreading fake news that lead to communal violence, anyone who is found guilty may be imprisoned to 3 to 5 years. April 27 Press release #LKA #SriLanka #Negombo”

Such cases of communal violence in Negombo are believed to have increased after April 21, when in a series of eight Easter bombings, a number of churches and hotels in the country were attacked and hundreds of people were killed.

While some have called this communal violece, others have said this was a personal brawl between two groups that snowballed into a tense situation.

On May 5, @kataclysmichaos tweeted: “Police impose curfew in Negombo effective immediately until 7am tomorrow after a tense situation was reported between two groups. Police say the situation is now under control.”

And @SriLankaTweet posted: “Personal dispute between two persons and later into two groups. Tense situation in Poruthota #Negombo now under control. Curfew imposed for Negombo, Kochchikade, Seeduwa, Katunayake , Divulapitiya and Katana police areas till tomorrow 7am - Police media #LKA #SriLanka”

While many were left confused. @RainiCharuka posted: “Anybody knows what’s going on in Negombo ?”

Negombo is a town 40 kilometres away from Colombo and it’s home to the St. Sebastian’s church that was one of the sites attacked on April 21.

When Islamist militants took responsibility for the attacks, fear rose that the Muslim community in the country would become targets of communal violence.

On May 7, 15 days after the Easter Day attacks, Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church appealed for calm and an alcohol ban after clashes between Christians and Muslims occurred in Negombo.