Firebrand Myanmar monk blames Islamists for bomb blast

Blast hurts five while firebrand preaches, but police say it's not clear who's responsible

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 3:51am

A firebrand monk has blamed Islamic extremists for a small bomb that slightly wounded five people when it went off while he was preaching in Myanmar's second-largest city.

The blast happened at 9pm on Sunday during a religious ceremony on the outskirts of Mandalay. Ashin Wirathu, dubbed the Burmese bin Laden and accused of inciting violence with hate-filled speeches targeting the minority Muslim community, seemed unfazed as he carried on with his sermon.

"It wasn't a loud explosion," witness Ma Sandar said, comparing the sound to that of a tyre bursting. "But it caused some commotion. Many people left."

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million people, has been gripped by religious violence since emerging from half a century of military rule just two years ago.

More than 250 people - most of them Muslims - have been killed and another 140,000 displaced by Buddhist mobs who have gone on rampages in several cities in the past 14 months, chasing down victims with metal pipes, chains and swords.

The first threat to me was through the Time magazine ... and the second was Sunday, in the form of a bomb
Ashin Wirathu, dubbed the 'Burmese bin Laden'

A police officer said it was unclear who was behind Sunday's bombing.

A small device was placed under a car, about 20 metres from where Wirathu was speaking.

The monk immediately called it the "work of Islamic extremists". "Ordinary Muslims would not have done this," he said.

Wirathu is the leader of 969, a fundamentalist Buddhist movement that started on the fringes of society but now boasts supporters nationwide.

He has called for a boycott of all Muslim-owned shops and is pushing for a law that would restrict marriages between Buddhist women and Muslim men.

Soaring birthrates, he says, mean that Muslims, who make up just 4 per cent of the population, could one day become a majority.

Wirathu, who has come under heavy criticism in the international press, again lashed out at Time magazine on Sunday for a cover story earlier this month with the words "Face of Buddhist Terrorism" under his photo.

That too, he alleged, was the work of Muslim extremists. "The first threat to me was through the Time magazine," he said, and the second was Sunday, in the form of a bomb.