Security boosted as Lanka mourns suicide blast dead - GulfToday

Security boosted as Lanka mourns suicide blast dead


Devotees cry as they pray at a barricade near St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on Sunday. Agence France-Presse

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.

Amidst heavy security imposed across the country, a vigil was also held outside St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo at 8:45am, the moment the bomber struck the church, killing dozens of worshippers.

“Today during this mass we are paying attention to last Sunday’s tragedy and we try to understand it,” the cardinal said at his official residence, where President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were among the small congregation.

“We pray that in this country there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division,” he said.

“What happened last Sunday is a great tragedy, an insult to humanity,” he added.

Meanwhile, the father and two brothers of the suspected mastermind of the bombings were killed when security forces stormed their safe house two days ago, police sources and a relative of the suicide bombers said on Sunday.

Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim, who were seen in a video circulating on social media calling for all-out war against non- believers, were among 15 killed in a fierce gun battle with the military on the east coast on Friday, four police sources said.

Niyaz Sharif, the brother-in-law of Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader, said the video showed Zahran’s two brothers and father.

Three of the people killed in Friday’s gun battle were the same people who were seen in the undated video on social media, in which they discus martyrdom and urge their followers to kill all non believers, police sources said.

In the video, Rilwan is seen calling for all out “terror,” while children cry in the background.

“We will destroy these non-believers to protect this land and therefore we need to do militancy,” Rilwan says in the video, sitting beside his brother and father.

“We need to teach a proper lesson for these non-believers.”

Footage shown on state television showed explosives, a generator, a drone and a large quantity of batteries inside the converted studio.

A Daesh flag and uniforms were also found, police said.

At exactly 8:45am, the singing of hymns by scores of people outside St Anthony’s church stopped and the bells tolled. The hands on the tower clock are still fixed at the time of the blast.

“I come to this church every Sunday, it feels like my second home,” said Dharshika Fernando, 19, fighting back tears.

“It feels like people blasted my own home.”

Thousands of Sri Lankan troops remained on the streets, guarding churches and mosques for the symbolic day.

Security forces also carried out new arrests.

Authorities say they are seeking about 140 Daesh militants in all.

The latest two, Mohamed Saadik Abdul Haq and Mohamed Saahid Abdul Haq, were on a list of six “most wanted” radicals issued on Thursday.

They were wanted for the Dec.26 desecration of Buddha statues at the central town of Mawanella, the act that first brought to prominence the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) group, which has been blamed for the Easter bombings.

The Daesh group, which claimed responsibility for the Easter bombings, said the three men who blew themselves up at Kalmunai were members of the militant group.

Police said the widow of Hashim and their child were wounded in the Kalmunai raid.

“The woman and her four-year-old daughter are now being treated at a government hospital,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.

Gunasekera said they were carrying out DNA tests to establish if Hashim’s father was among those who perished at the safe house.

The firebrand cleric is said to have died in the attack on the Shangri-La, one of three Colombo hotels hit by suicide bombers.

Sirisena used emergency powers to officially ban the NTJ and a splinter group identified as Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI) on Saturday, his office announced.

Agence France-Presse

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