Sri Lankan policemen frisk men attending a funeral ceremony for a bomb blast victim in Colombo. Ishara S. Kodikara/ AFP
Sri Lanka deployed thousands of additional troops countrywide overnight to help police hunt for suspects in the Easter Sunday suicide blasts that killed nearly 360 people, a spokesman said on Thursday.
Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said the army increased its deployment by 1,300 to 6,300, with the navy and airforce also deploying 2,000 more personnel.
“We are armed with powers to search, seize, arrest and detain under emergency regulations,” Atapattu told AFP.
“We are involved in static guard duties, patrolling and helping with cordon-and-search operations.”
The government also announced a ban on all drone flights and said licences issued to all commercial operators were suspended with immediate effect.
Police said they arrested another 16 suspects overnight with alleged ties to the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) extremist group accused of the blasts at three churches and three luxury hotels.
Police said about 75 people were now being interrogated in connection with the deadliest attack against civilians in the country’s history.
Sri Lankan authorities are also investigating a security failure to act on prior information about the impending Easter bombings by the NTJ.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the minister of defence and law and order, on Tuesday vowed a major security shake up with pledges to remove the heads of the police and armed forces “within 24 hours,” but there were no changes by Thursday morning.
Recriminations have flown since Sunday’s attacks and the country remained tense with many shops and offices closed and motorists staying off the roads.
Sirisena is due to meet with leaders of all political parties as well as religious leaders in two separate meetings on Thursday to discuss the situation.
Sunday’s bomb attacks were the first in the country since the Tamil insurgency ended almost 10 years ago in May 2009.Agence France-Presse
Flags were lowered to half mast on government buildings, and people bowed their heads and reflected silently on the violence that has caused international outrage.
Sri Lanka's government has come under increasing pressure over the revelation it failed to act on intelligence about planned attacks, which claimed nearly 360 lives, and Hemasiri Fernando had been widely expected to step down.
Sri Lanka’s churches remained shut on Sunday forcing Christians to say prayers of grief in private over the Easter suicide attacks that the country’s Roman Catholic leader called “an insult to humanity.” Fearing a repeat of the Easter Sunday bombings of churches and hotels in which 253 people died, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, held a private mass after cancelling all public services.
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