Sri Lanka hunts Buddhist monk over anti-Muslim hate crimes

Colombo (AFP) - Sri Lanka's police launched a major manhunt Thursday for a controversial Buddhist monk wanted in connection with a spate of attacks against mosques and Muslim-owned business.

Police said they were working to track down and arrest Galagodaatte Gnanasara, head of the radical Buddhist Force or BBS, after he went into hiding.

His party is accused of instigating a recent wave of hate attacks against the country's Muslim minority.

Police said in a statement they had secured a court order to prevent him from leaving the country.

"He is wanted in connection with obstruction of justice, hate speech and several other crimes," said the statement.

It came shortly after the BBS announced that Gnanasara had gone into hiding, fearing he could be assassinated.

"The monk is at a secret location," BBS spokesman Dilantha Vithanage told reporters in Colombo.

"We have told him not to venture out as he could be assassinated after he is arrested."

Police sources said they had received more than a dozen complaints of hate speech against Gnanasara, who already faces charges of contempt for causing a disturbance inside a court.

His party denies orchestrating the attacks against Muslims, who account for just 10 percent of the country's 21 million people but are a formidable political force.

The BBS was accused of instigating religious riots in mid-2014 that left four people dead, but the then government of former strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse did not prosecute them.

Rajapakse's brother Gotabhaya, a former defence minister, was said to be close to the party.

A new government has since been elected and this week it debated the latest wave of anti-Muslim attacks and ordered tough action to prevent an escalation.