Myanmar's radical monk Wirathu said Monday that a bomb which went off near him and injured five people in Mandalay city over the weekend could have been planted by Muslim extremists out to “silence" him.
The blast on Sunday evening was generated by a homemade bomb thrown under a car parked some 30 feet (9 meters) from where the monk was delivering a religious sermon.
“It was likely a homemade bomb,” Wirathu told RFA’s Myanmar Service in an interview, saying the attack could have been organized by an organization “that usually carries out violence.”
“It was an effort to shut my mouth,” he said.
The monk said that the attack followed a threat he had received days earlier through an audio file on a CD, in which a “Muslim religious leader says that the Prophet Muhammad is asking for the heads of Wirathu and [fellow monk] Pyinnya Tharmi.”
Wirathu, who had once referred to himself as the “Buddhist Bin Laden,” proceeded with his sermon to followers of his “969” Buddhist movement following the blast. The group calls on Myanmar’s Buddhist majority to boycott Muslim shops and not to fraternize with members of the religion.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bomb, which Wirathu said left a man, three women, and a novice monk injured.
Several bouts of anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar have killed at least 43 people this year. Clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists that rocked western Myanmar’s Rakhine state last year left nearly 200 dead and 140,000 displaced.
Earlier this month, Time magazine ran a cover photo story of Wirathu as the “Face of Buddhist Terror,” saying the monk compared himself to a terrorist leader as he wages a "holy war" against Myanmar’s Muslim minority.
He has rejected claims that his group was responsible for the clashes.
The article prompted a public outcry that led to a government ban of the magazine and a mass rally in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital.
Wirathu said a woman who was injured at the scene of the blast reported that six men on three motorbikes had entered the event area and thrown something before fleeing.
“Around 9:30 p.m., people heard the noise of an explosion around 30 feet away. I wasn’t hurt, but my chair shook,” he said.
Supporters initially believed the sound was a car tire popping and called for the crowd to remain calm, he said, but after finishing his sermon, it became clear that a bomb had been set off.
“There were two cars behind the booth I was speaking from,” he said.
“The car on the right side was damaged and the tires were destroyed. It had moved about 7 feet from where it was parked.”
Wirathu said that five people were injured in the blast, including the woman who reported seeing the men on motorbikes. She was injured in the leg by a piece of shrapnel and taken to the hospital for surgery.
A young woman and man who were controlling the public address system at the sermon received shrapnel wounds to the belly, while an elderly woman near the explosion was injured in the thigh, he said.
Novice monk Pyinnya Tharmi from the Myataung Monastery was injured in the knee and leg.
Wirathu said that he plans to visit those injured in the blast, but that his followers are afraid for his safety and are reluctant to let him leave his monastery.
Violence between Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and the country’s Muslim minority, which accounts for some 4 percent of the country's 60-million population, have threatened to derail reformist President Thein Sein’s plans for national reconciliation and democracy following nearly five decades of military rule.
The president on Sunday met with leaders of various religions in Yangon to establish “interfaith friendship groups” in a bid to prevent further clashes between followers of different beliefs, Hla Maung, chairman of the group representing central Myanmar, told RFA.
“The president urged us to establish the Interfaith Friendship Groups because the problems in Rakhine and Meikhtila [in central Myanmar] were seen [only] as religious problems, but they were not,” said Hla Maung, who is also a former ambassador.
“The ministers who attended this meeting discussed not only preventing further religious clashes but also issues of education, health care, and social and economic development with the president.”
Thein Sein asked the various religious leaders for their help in solving disputes between communities by establishing interfaith groups in every division and state in Myanmar, and eventually in certain townships where problems exist, Hla Maung said.
“He also said that these groups have to help people who are in trouble, hold talks, and build understanding between all communities in order to achieve unity.”
Hla Maung said that his Interfaith Friendship Group (Central) has already established branches in Yangon and Mandalay and plans to establish one in Bago.
Reported by By Khin Maung Soe and Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.