More Sri Lanka attacks feared as Muslims condemn Easter bombs

Security personnel stand guard outside a mosque during Friday noon prayer in Colombo on May 3, 2019, following a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. (AFP)
Updated 03 May 2019
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More Sri Lanka attacks feared as Muslims condemn Easter bombs

  • Security forces are maintaining a high level of alert as intelligence reports indicated attacks are likely to happen before the beginning of Ramadan
  • An official said some of the militants behind the Easter bombings were likely to be still at large and could be planning more attacks

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka bolstered security Friday with fears of attacks against bridges in the capital as the prime minister vowed to hunt down any remaining Daesh extremists behind the deadly Easter bombings.
Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims, meanwhile, held Friday prayers under tight security, condemning the militant attacks that killed 257 people on April 21.
Militant extremists were believed to be planning further attacks, authorities said, this time against several bridges and flyovers in the city as well as police stations.
The warnings came as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some of the conspirators in the April 21 bombings of three hotels and three luxury hotels may still be at large.
“Most of those responsible for the Easter attacks have been arrested. Some have been killed,” Wickremesinghe said Friday 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 IS terrorism will be eradicated from our land,” referring to another acronym for Daesh.
He hoped normality would return by Monday when public schools reopen after an extended Easter vacation. About 50 children were among those killed.
As Muslims held prayers, mosque leaders said donations they received will be diverted to help rebuild the three churches.
At Colombo’s Dewatagaha Jumma mosque, hundreds of Muslims prayed after being frisked by police for explosives. Vehicles were not allowed to be parked near the Sufi mosque.
Banners in front of the mosque condemned the atrocities and expressed solidarity with Christians. One of the banners offered the mosque for Christians to conduct their services.
“The situation has come to normal but not completely,” chairman of the mosque, Reyyaz M. Salley, told AFP. “People are still scared. Non-Muslims and Muslims are in a very tense situation.”
Police confirmed they had instructed stations around Colombo to deploy additional officers and asked the navy to deploy more vessels on rivers following the leak of police intelligence warning bridges were at risk of attack.
Sri Lanka’s military has also set up a special command center to co-ordinate anti-militant operations, while the army said more troops have been deployed for search operations.
Additional troops conducted searches overnight and seized explosives and weapons from several locations, although these were from criminal groups and not militants, official sources said.
Authorities had information about a small group of radicals who may be trying to stage more strikes, said health minister and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne.
He said the crackdown on extremists after the Easter bombings had been largely successful.
“You can’t say the threat is over, but the situation is well under control... better than what we expected.”
But the government was also still on the hunt for “four terrorists” involved in the Easter attacks who were still at large, Senaratne told AFP in an interview on Thursday evening.
The Catholic Church announced Thursday that they had called off the resumption of Sunday services following information of a “specific threat” against two of their locations just outside the capital.
Catholic schools will not follow public schools in reopening on Monday, the Church said on Thursday.
Sri Lankan authorities have admitted that there was a failure to act on advance intelligence warnings of the deadly Easter Sunday attacks against churches and luxury hotels.
Senaratne said the country’s minority Muslim community had helped authorities root out extremists in the weeks since Easter.
“Everyone is giving information. They come forward to give a lot of information,” he said.
Sri Lanka was also receiving international help, with foreign intelligence services working alongside their local counterparts, Senaratne added.
“We have already received foreign assistance from the US, UK and from India. There are other countries also which have offered intelligence services,” he said.
Soon after the attacks, President Maithripala Sirisena said he believed there were 140 Daesh-inspired militants in Sri Lanka and he had ordered security forces to track them down.
The Easter attacks were blamed on the local National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) whose leader was among the suicide bombers. The group had pledged an oath of allegiance to Daesh.


US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

Updated 25 June 2019
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US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

  • John Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas
  • Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone

WASHINGTON: The acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection agency announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a public outcry over alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas.
John Sanders, appointed to the post just two months ago, said in a letter obtained by several US media outlets that he planned to step down as acting CBP chief on July 5.
Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, a sign of the increasing strain on resources due to soaring numbers of arrests at the US-Mexico border.
The conditions at the center in Clint were described by a team of lawyers, doctors and others who visited the facility about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a CBP official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.
“The three-year old before me had matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants, and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue,” wrote Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.
“His only caretaker for the last three weeks in a United States Border Patrol chain-link cage and then a cell... his 11-year old brother,” Long said.
“Children at Clint told us they don’t have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn’t been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don’t have regular access to soap,” she said.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Long said “the situation is dire.”
“And it’s not just Clint,” she said.
Sanders has led CBP since April, when President Donald Trump tapped CBP chief Kevin McAleenan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a message to staff, Sanders did not give a specific reason for quitting and officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times it was not clear if his resignation was directly related to the handling of underage migrants at the border.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he did not ask Sanders to step down but “knew there were going to be changes there.”
US law requires unaccompanied minors to be returned to their parents or transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours.
But many of the children held by the Border Patrol in Clint had been there for three or four weeks, according to the team which visited the facility on June 17.
“The Border Patrol claims that high numbers of border arrivals are causing these delays as they wait for space to open up in the somewhat more child-friendly detention centers and shelters,” said HRW’s Long.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone. CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez said more than 100,000 were children and families.
“Everybody understands it is not the Border Patrol’s job to take care of children,” said Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor who visited the Clint facility.
“They are as upset as we are that these children are being put into their care because they don’t have the ability to care for them,” Binford said on MSNBC.
“These children need to be with their families.”
Perez, the CBP deputy commissioner, made the same complaint recently at a panel discussion in Washington.
“We are a border security agency now being called upon to deal with things we’re not designed for,” Perez said.
Trump, asked about conditions at the detention centers, said he was “very concerned” and urged Democrats to approve $4.5 billion in emergency humanitarian funding for the southwest border.
He said “bad people” were using children to take advantage of lax US immigration laws. “It’s a form of slavery what they’re doing to young children,” he said.
Trump also said Mexico “for the first time in 50 years is helping us” prevent border-crossing.
“So I just want to thank Mexico,” said the US leader, who had threatened steep tariffs on Mexican goods unless the government did more to slow migration.
After a week of tense negotiations, Mexico agreed to reinforce its southern border with 6,000 National Guardsmen and expand its policy of taking back migrants while the US processes their asylum claims. Mexico has also deployed 15,000 troops to the US border.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Trump. “Hopefully they can keep it up.”