YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A firebrand Buddhist monk blamed Islamic extremists Monday for a small bomb that slightly wounded five people when it went off while he was preaching in Myanmar’s second-largest city, though police said it was too early to speculate.
The blast occurred at 9 p.m. Sunday during a religious ceremony on the outskirts of Mandalay.
Ashin Wirathu — a monk accused of inciting violence with hate-filled speeches targeting the predominantly Buddhist country’s minority Muslim community — seemed unfazed as he carried on with his sermon, said Ma Sandar, a witness.
“It wasn’t a loud explosion,” the 35-year-old said, comparing the sound to that of a tire-blast. “But it caused some commotion. Many people left.”
Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country of 60 million people, has been gripped by religious violence since emerging from a half-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 last 14 months, chasing down victims with metal pipes, chains and swords.
A police officer, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said it was unclear who was behind Sunday’s bombing.
A small device was placed under a car, he said, about 60 feet (18 meters) from where Wirathu was speaking.
The monk immediately called it the “work of Islamic extremists.”
“Ordinary Muslims wouldn’t have done this,” he told The Associated Press by telephone Monday from his monastery in Mandalay.
Wirathu, is the leader of 969, a fundamentalist Buddhist movement which 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 today make up just 4 percent of the population, could one day become a majority.
Wirathu, who has come under heavy criticism in the international press, again lashed out again at Time magazine Sunday for a cover story earlier this month that plastered the words “Face of Buddhist Terrorism” under his photograph.
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.