COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings.
A senior priest said that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces.”
Authorities revised the death toll down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.
The father of two of the suspected bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said suspects remained at large and could have access to explosives. Some of the suspects “may go out for a suicide attack,” Wickremesinghe said.
Hundreds of Ahmadi refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the bombings. Scores of Ahmadis who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords.
Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday over security failures. He submitted a letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena.
Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.
“The horrific attack is a demonstration of how tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that originated in this island nation several decades ago returned to haunt a shocked and broken government thanks to a complete collapse of counterterrorism capability or capacity,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert, writes in an opinion piece.
Hate preacher Zahran Hashim, head of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group that is being blamed for the attacks, developed a reputation as a preacher who “copied” Daesh propaganda videos to enhance his posts via the pro-Daesh Al-Ghuraba media channel, which used Facebook and YouTube as its primary platforms, Karasik says.
Sri Lanka’s Islamic affairs minister, M. H. M. Haleem, asked all Muslims to avoid prayers on Friday for security reasons. He also said it would be a mark of respect for those who perished in the nation’s worst violence in years.
Politician and Western Province Gov. Azath Salley told Arab News that the blasts were orchestrated by a handful of extremists and that the island’s Muslim population could not be held responsible for their “deviant” actions.