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Muslims flee, Christians grieve in Sri Lankan town torn by violence

Updated : April 25, 2019 09:49 AM IST

As mourners buried the remains of Christian worshippers killed by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, hundreds of Muslim refugees fled Negombo on the country's west coast where communal tensions have flared in recent days.

At least 359 people perished in the coordinated series of blasts targeting churches and hotels. Church leaders believe the final toll from the attack on St Sebastian's Church in Negombo could be close to 200, almost certainly making Negombo the deadliest of the six near-simultaneous attacks.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Pakistani Muslims fled the multi-ethnic port an hour north of the capital, Colombo. Crammed into buses organised by community leaders and police, they left fearing for their safety after threats of revenge from locals.

"Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses," Adnan Ali, a Pakistani Muslim, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus. "Right now we don't know where we will go."

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, yet despite Islamic State being a Sunni jihadist group, many of the Muslims fleeing Negombo belong to the Ahmadi community, who had been hounded out of Pakistan years ago after their sect was declared non-Muslim.

The fallout from Sunday's attacks appears set to render them homeless once more.

Security forces stand guard at St. Antony shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Security forces stand guard at St. Antony shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Gravediggers watch the arrival of a coffin to a mass burial site during a funeral, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Gravediggers watch the arrival of a coffin to a mass burial site during a funeral, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Locals watch a funeral procession, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Locals watch a funeral procession, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Security forces stand guard at St. Antony shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Security forces stand guard at St. Antony shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
The injured mother of Sajuni, 23, who died during a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, mourns at her funeral in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
The injured mother of Sajuni, 23, who died during a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, mourns at her funeral in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Sajuni, 23, who died during a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, at her funeral in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Sajuni, 23, who died during a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, at her funeral in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
A woman prays at a cemetery, as victims of a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday are being buried, in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
A woman prays at a cemetery, as victims of a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday are being buried, in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
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