• Tuesday, Jul 23, 2019
  • Last Update : 01:30 am

Sri Lanka: Jihadi threat persists despite arrests

  • Published at 06:23 pm May 7th, 2019
Sri lanka
A soldier stands guard at St Anthony's Shrine days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 25, 2019 Reuters

Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament that his Buddhist-majority nation was a victim of Islamist extremists and needed international support to deal with the persisting threat.

Sri Lankan authorities have arrested or killed all the jihadists responsible for Easter suicide bombings, but the island still faces the threat of "global terrorism," the prime minister said Tuesday.

Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament that his Buddhist-majority nation was a victim of Islamist extremists and needed international support to deal with the persisting threat.

"The danger is not over, we are now a victim of global terrorism," Wickremesinghe said.

"Even if we have arrested or killed every terrorist responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks, extremists abroad can still cause trouble for us. We need intelligence sharing with foreign partners to deal with this challenge."

His comments came as police chief Chandana Wickramaratne said they have accounted for every individual involved in the April 21 attacks that killed 257 people at three churches and three luxury hotels.

"All those who organised and carried out the suicide bomb attack have died or is in our custody," Wickramaratne said.

"The two bomb experts of the group have been killed. We have seized the explosives they had stored for future attacks."

Wickramaratne, who was named acting police chief last week after President Maithripala Sirisena suspended his predecessor over his failure to act on warnings about the attacks, said public life was slowly returning to normal.

Church opens

The St Anthony's church also partially opened Tuesday for prayers amid tight security even as the military and police guarded the historic place of worship dating back to 1740.

Police set up steel barricades outside and frisked people entering to pray before a statue of Saint Anthony. Church authorities said they will allow devotees for a 12-hour period until the church was fully restored.

Sri Lanka's navy is leading efforts to rebuild the church which is venerated not only by Catholics but also by many people of other faiths who believe in the miraculous powers of Saint Anthony.

The government reopened public schools on Monday, but attendance dropped to below 10% in many places with parents still fearing attacks.

"We have strengthened security for all schools," the police chief said. "We are also conducting a programme to create awareness about safety and security in all schools."

Wickramaratne did not say how many people were in custody over the bombings, but police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said Monday that 73 people, including nine women, were being held.

The bombings were blamed on a local group, the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), but the Islamic State group has also claimed responsibility.

Police said religious tensions have eased at Negombo, a town north of Colombo that suffered the highest death toll in the Easter Sunday attacks. A bomb at St Sebastian's church in the town killed more than 100 worshippers.

Dozens of Muslim-owned businesses, homes and vehicles in Negombo were damaged in clashes on Sunday night.

The Roman Catholic Church appealed for calm and urged Christians not to carry out revenge attacks against Muslims.

Police said two arrests were made and more suspects had been identified through CCTV footage.