Sri Lanka in state of emergency as terror group named as attackers

A woman prays at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo on April 22, 2019, a day after the building was hit as part of a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (AFP)
Updated 23 April 2019
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Sri Lanka in state of emergency as terror group named as attackers

  • National terror group linked to the attacks, international influence not ruled out
  • Sri Lankan police find 87 detonators at a bus stand in Colombo

COLOMBO: The Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka were carried out by Sri Lankan nationals with the help of an international network, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said on Monday.
“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne said. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

But Senaratne told journalists at a news conference Monday that all seven bombers were Sri Lankan citizens and members of the National Thowheeth Jamath (NTJ) terror group.

 

In ongoing operations Sri Lankan police found 87 bomb detonators at Colombo’s main bus stand on Monday, a police spokesman said.

An explosion also went off on Monday in a van near a church in Sri Lanka where scores were killed the previous day, when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it, a Reuters witness said. No injuries have been reported.

The devastating attacks on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka killed 290 people and wounded more than 500, a senior investigator said on Monday.
Two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the luxury Shangri-La Hotel on Colombo's seafront, said Ariyananda Welianga, a senior official at the government’s forensic division. The others targeted three churches and two other hotels.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan authorities have announced that another curfew will be introduced today from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. and the Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena announced that from midnight he will declare a nationwide state of emergency.

The announcement came as authorities lifted the original curfew in Sri Lanka on Monday, and there were warnings more attacks were possible.
There was still no claim of responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks on two churches and four hotels in and around Colombo, the capital of predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, and a third church on the South Asian nation’s northeast coast.
A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said.
Sri Lankan military who were clearing the route from Colombo airport late on Sunday in preparation for Sirisena’s return found a homemade bomb near the departure gate, an air force spokesman said.
They disposed of the device in a controlled explosion, the spokesman said.
There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police also reporting late on Sunday there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.
Sri Lanka was at war for decades with Tamil separatists but extremist violence had been on the wane since the civil war ended 10 years ago.
The South Asian nation of about 22 million people has Christian, Muslim and Hindu populations of between about eight and 12 percent.
The US State Department issued a revised travel warning that said “terrorist groups” were continuing to plot possible attacks.
“Terrorists may attack with little or no warning,” it said in the revised warning, which was dated Sunday US time. The warning level was set at two on a scale where four means do not travel.
Possible targets included tourist locations, transportation hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship, airports and other public areas, it said.


Armed guards
The island-wide curfew imposed by the government was lifted early on Monday, although there was uncharacteristically thin traffic in the normally bustling capital.
Soldiers armed with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Center in the business district, where the four hotels were targeted on Sunday, according to a Reuters witness.
Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.
The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to gather.
Wickremsinghe acknowledged on Sunday that the government had some prior information about possible attacks on churches involving a little-known Islamist group but said ministers had not been told.
Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of the 290 people killed and 500 wounded, although government officials said 32 foreigners were also killed. These included British, US, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.
A British mother and son eating breakfast at the luxury Shangri-La hotel were among those killed, Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper reported.
One Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia’s 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of “absolute carnage.”
He said he and a travel partner were also having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.
“There were people screaming and dead bodies all around,” he said. “Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don’t know if they were dead or not, just crazy.”
There were similar scenes of carnage at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered for Easter Sunday services. Pictures from the scene showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.
Dozens were killed in one of the blasts at the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected that blast was a suicide attack.
Three police officers were also killed when security forces raided a house in Colombo several hours after the attacks.
Police reported an explosion at the house.

Decoder

What is the National Thowheed Jamath?

The National Thowheed Jamath is a radical Muslim group that appeared after the Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009, and has been linked to the vandalism of Buddhist statues. It preaches extremism, strict interpretations of religious texts, and intolerance of non-Muslims. The group demands the compulsory veiling of Muslim women. NTJ built mosques and madrassas in various parts of the country. Extremism expert Anne Speckhard told the NYT that the group aims to spread hatred, fear and division among the local society.


Portugal suspends visas for Iranians for 'security reasons'

Updated 16 July 2019
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Portugal suspends visas for Iranians for 'security reasons'

  • Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said Portugal does not play around with entry into its territory

LISBON: Portugal has suspended the issuance of entry visas for Iranian nationals for unspecified security reasons, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
Answering a question from a committee member on whether such a move had been taken, Santos Silva said during the televised meeting: “Yes, we suspended those for security reasons ... I will provide explanations later, but not publicly.”
“Portugal does not play around with entry into its territory,” he added, without disclosing when the decision was taken.
The chairman declared the meeting closed after about two hours without further off-camera testimony.
Joao Goncalves Pereira, the lawmaker from the conservative CDS-PP party who asked the question, told Reuters: “We received information that visas for Iranians had been suspended for two or three weeks, and we just wanted to confirm that.”
He would not say what was the source of that original information or whether any Iranian nationals had complained about the situation.
Foreign ministry officials had no immediate comment and nobody was available for comment in the Iranian embassy in Lisbon.