COLOMBO // A Buddhist mob attacked a mosque in Sri Lanka's capital, injuring at least 12, in the latest in a series of attacks on the minority Muslim community by members of the Buddhist majority.
A mob of Buddhists, who are mainly ethnic Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, threw stones at a three-storey mosque and nearby houses in a central Colombo neighbourhood during evening prayers on Saturday, residents said.
Later, hundreds of Muslim residents took to the streets, some clutching sticks, to prevent any further attacks on their community, witnesses said.
Police reinforcements were sent and authorities imposed a curfew that remained in place until today.
A senior member of staff at one of the city's main hospitals said 12 injured people, including two police officers, had been brought in. Three people were still in hospital.
The police appealed for calm. "Support the police to maintain the law and order," Inspector General of Police NK Ilangakoon said.
There has been increasing violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka since last year, mirroring events in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which has also seen a surge of attacks by members of the majority community against Muslims.
In Myanmar, hardline Buddhist monks have been at the forefront of campaigns against Muslims.
In Sri Lanka, a group known as Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or the "Buddhist power force", has been trying to win over Buddhists to their campaign against Muslims.
A spokesman for the BBS, Dilantha Vithanage, denied any involvement by his organisation in the latest mosque attack.
Buddhists make up about 70 per cent of Sri Lanka's 20.3 million population. Muslims make up about 9 per cent.
"The lukewarm and ineffective measures taken by the law enforcement agencies on previous occasions seem to have emboldened some extremist groups who seem to determined to create chaos in the country," said Muslim ministers in the government of the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The mosque damaged in the Saturday night attack was only built a month ago after hardline Buddhists forced a nearby mosque to close.
Imams in Sri Lanka expressed concern after Saturday's attack.
"We were surprised because we thought things were settling down," said Fazin Farook, a spokesman for the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, Sri Lanka's top Islamic authority.
"With this attack, we are worried again and we see this [anti-Muslim] trend continuing. We condemn this attack."
Mr Farook said that the latest violence came five months after an anti-Muslim campaign culminated in the torching of two Muslim-owned businesses just outside the capital.
NM Ameen, the president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council, said more than 20 mosques had been attacked since last year.
The United States embassy in Colombo said the incident was particularly troubling in light of several recent attacks against the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.
"Targeting any place of worship should never be permitted and we urge calm from all sides. We call for prosecution of perpetrators in this attack and an end to religious-based violence," the embassy said.
The US, which in March initiated a UN Human Rights Council resolution against Sri Lanka over alleged war crimes during its onslaught against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009, also urged Colombo to ensure religious freedom.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse