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.


Climate change is hot topic in the European Parliament vote

Updated 13 min 54 sec ago
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Climate change is hot topic in the European Parliament vote

  • For the first time, the issue is expected to have a significant impact on this week’s elections for the European Parliament
  • Climate change may seem like a luxury issue for voters in struggling economies such as Italy

LANGEOOG, German: Hungry tourists stream into the glass-fronted balcony of Michael Recktenwald’s restaurant on the German island of Langeoog, with its splendid view of the North Sea and the blue skies above.
The 49-year-old has lived on Langeoog for most of his life, and his wife’s family has been there for generations, but Recktenwald fears their children may not be able to stay if the world keeps on warming.
Concerns about climate change have prompted mass protests across Europe for the past year. For the first time, the issue is expected to have a significant impact on this week’s elections for the European Parliament.
Recktenwald pointed to the damaged levees protecting the island, which is part of the Frisian Archipelago off the coasts of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. Islands like Langeoog are among the regions most vulnerable to the rising sea levels predicted to result from climate change.
“The sea level has already risen and storm surges are getting more violent,” he told The Associated Press. “The chain of dunes is being attacked more strongly, endangering our freshwater supply.”
A recent opinion poll in Germany showed that climate change has overtaken immigration as the issue voters in the EU’s most populous nation are most concerned about. Elsewhere across the EU, climate change also features prominently among the top issues — along with immigration and the economy — ahead of the European Parliament vote that began Thursday and runs through Sunday in all of the bloc’s 28 nations.
“In many countries, the climate issue has become increasingly one of the top issues that voters are concerned about when they talk about European issues,” said Derek Beach, a political scientist at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. “In Denmark, for example, this year it’s really almost the only issue that people are talking about in relation to the European Parliament election.”
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg inspired a ‘Fridays for Future’ school strikes movement in her native Sweden that’s spread across Europe, bringing tens of thousands to the streets demanding faster action on climate change. The Extinction Rebellion direct action group upended traffic across London for days to press the point. Both cite spiking temperature records and dramatic warnings from scientists as reasons to act now to fight global warming.
Yet what remains an abstract threat to most Europeans has become very real to Recktenwald.
“We’re directly affected,” he said, walking past beachgoers enjoying the sun from behind the wicker windbreaks that are a signature of German coastal resorts.
Together with eight other families elsewhere in the world and a Scandinavian youth group, the Recktenwalds launched a legal action to force the European Union to set more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A court rejected their case on procedural grounds Wednesday, but the plaintiffs plan to appeal.
In the meantime, Recktenwald — who doesn’t belong to any political party — is hoping that European leaders listen to voters who want their governments and the EU to take decisive action against global warming.
Parties that have traditionally championed environmental causes, such as the Greens in Germany, are well-placed to benefit from the growing concern about climate change. The party clocked an unprecedented 19% support in Germany in a survey published last week, overtaking the center-left Social Democrats that are part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition.
“We are very optimistic that we will achieve the largest parliamentary group we have ever had in the European Parliament,” said Ska Keller, one of two leading candidates for the European Greens.
“The climate issue is now finally on everyone’s lips, a subject that we have been credibly promoting for many decades,” she added. “We have very concrete proposals for what we want to do against the climate crisis, for the preservation of biodiversity, for the preservation of our environment.”
The Greens had 52 seats in the last EU legislature, making it fourth biggest political grouping, and are expected to gain more of the European Parliament’s 751 total seats.
Other parties, too, have been waking up to the issue of global warming.
Merkel’s center-right Union bloc has pledged to implement the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to keep average temperatures increases worldwide well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times. But the party, like many others, has hesitated when it comes to backing tough measures scientists say are necessary to drastically curb greenhouse gas emissions, such as adding a climate tax to fossil fuels.
In France, raising gas taxes sparked nationwide protests and created the yellow vest movement for economic justice, whose weekly protests since November, especially in Paris, have often turned violent. That has made other European governments leery of openly backing such a move. Some right-wing parties are attacking the science of global warming in an effort to win voters fearing the economic consequences of combating climate change.
Experts say the EU as a whole is possibly a better place for making decisions on climate change than its national governments.
“This is probably one of the easiest things for most voters to see something that only Europe can deal with,” said Beach.
Still, climate change may seem like a luxury issue for voters in struggling economies such as Italy, he said.
“When your 20-something kids are both unemployed, then you would definitely perhaps be a little bit more concerned about that kind of economic bread-and butter-issue,” Beach said.
Uwe Garrels, the mayor of Langeoog, is well aware of the tension between environmental protection and economic prosperity.
The island, a half hour’s ferry ride from the German mainland, was poor until tourism brought jobs. Now about 1,800 permanent residents and 2,400 seasonal workers look after more than 10,000 visitors during the summer months.
Despite a drought last year, locals are unwilling to give up their lush lawns for fear of spoiling the island’s idyllic image.
Garrels suggests that Langeoog, a 20-square kilometer (7.7-square mile) island in the heart of a World Heritage site with car-free streets and clean air, can at least help make visitors more environmentally aware.
“We can’t be viewed in isolation to the entire country or the whole EU,” he said. “You can’t create an oasis of sustainability on Langeoog if that’s not the case in the rest of the country.”
Recktenwald, the restaurant owner, hopes the EU election will spur tougher top-down climate action.
“If we do nothing,” he said, “then my children will probably experience not being able to live here anymore. That’s relatively certain.”