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Sri Lanka minister snubbed over IS claims

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena Wednesday publicly rebuked his justice minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe over claims that the Islamic State jihadists were recruiting dozens of local Muslims to fight in Syria.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the government disassociated itself from Minister Rajapakshe’s claims that 32 men from four Sri Lankan Muslim families had already joined the IS.

"The President wanted me to state very categorically that the justice minister’s remarks are not based on any intelligence, but is hear-say," Senaratne told reporters in Colombo.

Official sources said minister Rajapakshe was strongly criticised during Tuesday’s a cabinet meeting for his sensational claims. He was not immediately available for comment.

Senaratne, who is also the Health minister, said state intelligence agencies had reported that there had been no recruitment of local Muslims to fight abroad along side IS jihadists.

However, he said only one Sri Lankan man was reported to have joined the IS after having migrated from the island a few years earlier and he too had been killed in Syria in July last year.

"He migrated and later joined the IS, but there is no report of anyone going from Sri Lanka directly to join the IS," the government spokesman Senaratne said.

He said Justice minister’s claim during a speech in parliament last week had raised concern among Muslims who constitute about 10 percent of the Buddhist-majority country’s 20 million population.

He also discounted his cabinet colleague’s claims that jihadists were entering the island to radicalise the minority community in several areas of the island.

"There are Arabic teachers who are coming into the country, but they are doing legitimate work," Senaratne said adding that their visas had been granted after intelligence agencies vetted them.

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"We are closely monitoring those who come here to teach, but there is no indication of them trying to radicalise our youth."

Sri Lanka has stepped up checks for possible IS recruits at the country’s main international airport following reports that over 50 nationals from neighbouring Maldives were using Colombo as a transit point to travel to war-torn areas in the Middle East.

(COLOMBO, Nov 23, 2016)

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