Sirisena vows to eradicate terrorism, bring stability - GulfToday

Sirisena vows to eradicate terrorism, bring stability

Colombo-checkpoint

A soldier stands guard at a checkpoint in Colombo on Saturday. Agence France-Presse

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena said on Saturday the security forces would “eradicate terrorism” following devastating suicide attacks on Easter Sunday and restore stability before a presidential election due by year-end.

Sirisena also said in an interview he believed Daesh was behind the April 21 attacks, which targeted churches and luxury hotels and killed more than 250 people including 42 foreign nationals. The group has claimed responsibility.

“Elections cannot be postponed, therefore before the elections I will bring about stability and I will eradicate terrorism,” Sirisena said.

The elections are likely to take place between Nov. 10 and Dec. 10.

“We have already identified all active members of the group and it’s a case of now arresting them,” Sirisena said, adding that there were a further 25 to 30 “active members” linked to the bombings still at large.

Sirisena said that all indications suggested Daesh had been involved, adding: “It’s crystal clear because after the attacks the Daesh organisation made an announcement claiming responsibility for the bombings.”

Sri Lanka authorities have previously said that they suspect the attackers had international links, although the precise nature of those connections is not known.

Police have said they are also investigating the possible involvement of two previously little-known groups — National Thawheedh Jamaath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.

Sirisena said that intelligence services from eight countries, including the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Interpol, were helping Sri Lanka with the investigation.

Local intelligence officials believe that Zahran Hashim, a radical Tamil-speaking preacher from the east of the Indian Ocean island nation, may have been a key player in plotting the Easter bombings. Officials believe he was one of nine suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church will televise a private Sunday mass after cancelling regular services over fears of a repeat of the bombings, a spokesman said.

Father Edmund Tillakaratne said public masses were suspended for a second week, but a service conducted by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith will be broadcast on national television. “It will be like last Sunday when we had a service at Archbishop’s chapel and telecast it live,” Tillakaratne said.

Ranjith, who is also archbishop of Colombo, said Thursday that a “reliable foreign source” had alerted him to possible attacks this weekend, leading him to cancel Sunday services for the second week.

“The information we have from a reliable foreign source is that attackers are planning to hit a very famous church and a Catholic institution,” the Cardinal said in a statement.

Official sources said the Thewatte National Basilica, just outside Colombo, was the suspected target, and the military deployed hundreds of troops to search the area.

“There were no explosives found, but we have stepped up security in the neighbourhood,” a police official said.

The government is going ahead with plans to reopen public schools on Monday, but the Church said Catholic schools will remain shut “until further notice.”

Armed guards have been stationed outside hotels, churches, Buddhist temples and mosques across the country since the attacks. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Friday that some of the conspirators may still be at large.

“Most of those responsible for the Easter attacks have been arrested. Some have been killed,” Wickremesinghe said during a tour of island’s east, where a Christian church was hit.

“We are trying to see if there are any more secret IS cells in the country,” he said. “We will ensure that Daesh terrorism will be eradicated from our land.”

Sri Lanka bolstered security on Friday with fears of attacks against several bridges and flyovers in Colombo as well as police stations.

He hoped normality would return by Monday when public schools reopen after an extended Easter vacation. About 50 children were among those killed.

Separately, police have requested members of the public hand over swords or other large knives to the nearest police stations after hundreds of such blades were discovered in Mosques and homes during searches in the aftermath of the bomb attacks.

Agencies