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October 16, 2019
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Sri Lanka moves to curb Saudi influence after Easter bombings

KATTANKUDY (Sri Lanka): Sri Lanka is moving to curtail Saudi Arabian influence, after some politicians and Buddhist monks blamed the spread of the kingdom’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam for planting the seeds of militancy that culminated in deadly Easter bomb attacks.

On April 21, nine Sri Lankans blew themselves up in churches and luxury hotels, killing more than 250 people and shocking the country a decade after its civil war ended.

Sri Lanka has since arrested a Wahhabi scholar and is set to take over a Saudi-funded school. The government is also going to monitor previously unchecked money flows from donors including prominent Saudi families to mosques on the Indian Ocean island.

“Nobody will be able to just make donations now,” said Muslim cabinet minister Kabir Hashim, who has urged Muslim communities to look at how radical ideas could have spread. He said the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs would oversee donations.

The outcry in Sri Lanka is the latest sign that Wahhabism, which critics deem a root cause of the jihadist threat, is under pressure internationally.

Saudi Arabia rejects the idea that Wahhabism is problematic and defends its record by pointing to the detention of thousands of suspected militants. Riyadh in June sent back five Sri Lankans allegedly linked to the Easter attacks.

Saudi diplomats in Colombo have expressed “displeasure” over being targeted during a recent meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena, a Sri Lankan official said.

Sirisena’s office, as well as Saudi Arabia’s Colombo embassy and the kingdom’s communications office in Riyadh, did not respond to requests for comment on the backlash against Saudi influence.

That backlash has focused on one man in particular – Muhammad Hizbullah, a businessman and politician who was the governor of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province until he resigned in June following protests by hardline Buddhist monks.

The monks, who are influential on the island where 70 percent of the population are Buddhists, and some members of parliament say Hizbullah’s links to Riyadh contributed to the spread of militancy in his native Kattankudy, a Muslim-majority town.

Hizbullah’s family helped build Saudi-financed mosques and a Saudi-funded higher education institute, Batticaloa Campus, which has not opened yet, in the Eastern Province.

The mosque and school projects were led by the Hira Foundation, a non-profit owned by Hizbullah and his son Hiras.