COLOMBO (Reuters) - Thirty-two Sri Lankan Muslims from "well-educated and elite" families have joined Islamic State in Syria, the justice minister said on Friday, adding that the government would not allow the spread of extremism in the island nation.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe's statement to parliament came as President Maithripala Sirisena has been criticized for failing to curb religious hate speech amid the emergence of both Muslim and Buddhist extremist groups.
"All these (Muslims) are not from ordinary families. These people are from the families which are considered as well-educated and elite," Rajapakshe said, citing reports by some unnamed foreign intelligence agencies.
He also said the government was aware of some foreigners coming to Sri Lanka to spread Islamic extremism.
"There is a greater fear among the public about ISIS... If somebody tries to spread extremism in this country, we will not allow for that from today. The law of this country is no different to Buddhist monks or ordinary people."
More than 70 percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million people are Buddhists, about 13 percent are Hindu, while Muslims make up around 10 percent.
Some extreme Sinhala Buddhist groups have threatened Muslims and their businesses on social media while attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned properties have continued under the Sirisena administration.
Muslim leaders in 2014 warned the government of possible Islamic radicalisation and Muslims turning to foreign Islamic groups for support because of attacks by Buddhist hardliners.
Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war ended in 2009 with the military defeating the predominately Hindu Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who fought for a separate state in the island's north and east.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Nick Macfie)