President Maithripala Sirisena orders emergency for another 30 days, citing "public security," a month after deadly Easter bombings killed 258 people.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena speaks at the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing, China May 15, 2019.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena speaks at the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing, China May 15, 2019. (Reuters Archive)

Sri Lanka extends state of emergency

Sri Lanka's president extended on Wednesday by a further month the state of emergency imposed immediately after the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 258 people.

Maithripala Sirisena issued a proclamation saying that the emergency, which gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects for long periods of time, would continue for another 30 days, citing "public security".

Arrests, new curfews follow anti-Muslim riots

Sri Lanka's police arrested more than 100 suspects and reimposed night curfews in violence-prone areas on Wednesday after anti-Muslim riots left one man dead and caused extensive damage to homes, businesses and mosques.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said 78 people arrested in the worst-affected North Western Province (NWP) were remanded in custody, while the rest were detained after a manhunt in other areas.

Police arrest 23 for targeting Muslims

Sri Lankan police arrested 23 suspects on Tuesday in connection with a spate of attacks on Muslim-owned homes and shops in apparent reprisal for the Easter bombings by militants.

Soldiers in armoured vehicles patrolled towns hit by sectarian violence this week as residents recalled how Muslims hid in paddy fields to escape mobs, carrying rods and swords, incensed over Church attacks. 

Gunasekera said the situation is under control and no new incidents had been reported on Tuesday.

Government orders nationwide curfew for second night

Sri Lanka's police declared on Tuesday a nationwide curfew for a second night running, after anti-Muslim riots killed one man and left dozens of shops, homes and mosques damaged.

Police spokesman Gunasekera said the night curfew will go into effect from 15:30 GMT (9:00 pm local time) while the most affected North Western Province will have a longer shutdown.

The government issued a text message to citizens announcing the curfew.

Curfew partially lifted

A Sri Lankan province north of the capital was under indefinite curfew on Tuesday after the first death in anti-Muslim riots in the wake of the Easter terror attacks, police said.

A nationwide night curfew was relaxed in all areas except the North Western Province where a Muslim man was killed by a mob on Monday, police said, in a violent backlash against last month's bombings.

The 45-year-old died of injuries sustained when a crowd stormed his carpentry workshop in the Puttalam district in the NWP and slashed him, official sources said.

Elsewhere in the province, mobs torched dozens of Muslim-owned shops, vandalised homes and mosques in a day of rioting.

Nationwide curfew imposed

Sri Lankan police fired tear gas at mobs attacking mosques and shops owned by Muslims on Monday and imposed a nationwide curfew after the worst outbreak of sectarian violence since the Easter bombings.

Police imposed a nationwide curfew until from 1530 GMT (9 pm local time) to 2230GMT (4 am local time), spokesman Gunasekera said. 

Sri Lanka imposes curfew in North Western Province

Sri Lanka has imposed a curfew across its North Western Province on Monday, a police spokesman said, after attacks on mosques and shops owned by Muslims in the worst outbreak of violence since the Easter bombings on churches and hotels by militants.

"This is to control the spreading of violence," Gunasekera said in a statement.

Some social media sites blocked after violent incidents

The Sri Lankan government said on Monday it was temporarily blocking some social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, after violent incidents in the wake of Easter bombings by militants.

Several dozen people threw stones at mosques and Muslim-owned stores and a man was beaten in the town of Chilaw in North Western Province on Sunday in a dispute that started on Facebook, sources told Reuters. 

Sri Lankan media also reported incidents in several nearby areas overnight.

Threat of more militant attacks contained – army chief

Sri Lanka's army commander Mahesh Senanayake said the threat of more militant attacks has been contained and the security services have dismantled most of the network linked to the Easter Sunday bombings.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Senanayake said that investigators have established that the plotters had links to Daesh, but added that the authorities are still trying to establish how deep those contacts were.

"There is a link internationally, so we are working on those lines," he said.

"Definitely there is an IS [Daesh] link. That doesn't mean it was a direct IS [Daesh] hit. But we are trying to establish how deep it is in order to plan our [military] operations."

The army chief said he expects the country to return to normal within days and wants the military to head back to their barracks soon. 

Sri Lanka slaps controls on mosques

The Sri Lankan government on Friday ordered mosques to clamp down on extremists and to submit copies of sermons in new fallout from the Easter suicide bombings that left 258 dead.

The Ministry of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs said mosques must not be used for radicalising congregations.

"In view of the prevailing situation in the country, the ministry directs all trustees of mosques not to engage in or permit any gathering to promote or propagate hatred or extremism in any form," the ministry said.

It said all mosques must submit copies of sermons given within their premises.

Country is safe - president

Sri Lanka's president says "99 percent" of the suspects in the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels have been arrested and their explosive materials seized.

President Maithripala Sirisena said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that Sri Lanka is now safe for tourists.

It's been just over two weeks since a group of Sri Lankan militants carried out suicide bombings at churches full of people celebrating Easter services and at luxury hotels.

Sirisena said he was not told of near-specific advance information from Indian intelligence sources about the plot and the attackers.

He told AP that the violence wasn't a problem specific to Sri Lanka but rather "global terrorism."

Threat persists despite arrests - prime minister

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament that his Buddhist-majority nation was a victim of extremists and needed international support to deal with the persisting threat.

"The danger is not over, we are now a victim of global terrorism," Wickremesinghe said.

"Even if we have arrested or killed every terrorist responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks, extremists abroad can still cause trouble for us," the PM said. 

"We need intelligence sharing with foreign partners to deal with this challenge."

Easter bombers killed or arrested – police chief

Sri Lankan security authorities have either killed or arrested all the militants responsible for the Easter suicide bombings that left 257 people dead, police chief Chandana Wickramaratne said on Tuesday.

Police have accounted for every individual involved in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels, Wickramaratne said in an audio statement.

"All those who organised and carried out the suicide bomb attack have died or is in our custody," he said.

"The two bomb experts of the group have been killed. We have seized the explosives they had stored for future attacks."

Schools reopen amid fears of more attacks

State schools in Sri Lanka resumed classes on Monday amid tight security after the Easter Sunday bombings, but many anxious parents kept their children at home over fears of more attacks.

Soldiers conducted a security sweep of schools on Sunday after state institutions were asked to re-open on a staggered basis.

Most classrooms were near empty despite the tight security and military patrols.

"I have decided not to send my son to school until the country returns to normal," said Sujeeva Dissanayake, whose son goes to the state-run Asoka College in Colombo.

She and other parents were at the school to help provide security.

Mid-to-upper stream classes resumed on Monday, to be followed by lower grades at a later date.

Private schools, including Catholic institutions, remained closed.

Police discover suspected training camp for militants 

Sri Lankan police on Sunday discovered a 10-acre camp in the eastern town of Kattankudy, where militants linked to the deadly Easter attacks are believed to have practiced shooting and bomb-making.

The walled terrain is nestled in a poor residential area on the outskirts of the home town of Zahran Hashim, who is believed to have been a key player in plotting the April 21 attacks. 

The narrow, sandy plot is dotted with a cinderblock four-storey watchtower, as well as mango trees, a chicken coop and a goat shed.

"They wanted to show this place was normal. If someone comes to see, it looks like a farm. But what they were doing is terrorism," said a senior police officer in the Batticaloa area, asking to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to media.

Police found bullet holes in the wall on one side of the grounds, as well as long tubes suspected of holding bombs, the officer said.

Two owners of the plot of land have been arrested, the officer said. 

Sri Lanka Catholics celebrate Mass via TV

Sri Lankan Catholics are celebrating Sunday Mass in their homes for a second week as churches remain closed after reports of possible fresh attacks by militants.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, offered a televised Mass from his residence that was attended mostly by priests and nuns.

A letter from Pope Francis addressed to him was read out at the end of the service in which the pontiff says he prayed that "hearts hardened by hatred may yield to His will for peace and reconciliation among all his children."

City near capital under curfew after communal violence

A city near Sri Lanka's capital was placed under curfew by police on Sunday, following clashes between Muslim and Christian mobs two weeks after suicide bombings left 257 people dead.

A senior police officer said the restrictions were imposed to prevent an escalation of violence after attacks occurred in Negombo – north of Colombo – where over 100 people died in a church bombing.

"About two motorcycles and a three-wheel taxi had been damaged in the clashes," the police officer told AFP. "We declared a curfew till 7:00 am (0130 GMT) to contain the unrest."

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The country's main international airport is located in the area, but police said there was no disruption to airport traffic.

The officer said an investigation was underway into the clashes, the first violence between Muslims and Christians since the Easter Sunday attacks targeting three churches and three luxury hotels in the country.

New attacks on Sri Lanka churches planned, cardinal says

Sri Lanka's Catholic cardinal received "foreign information" that attempts would be made this week to attack a church and another church institution, according to a letter he sent Thursday to church officials that later appeared on social media.

Ranjith, who is the archbishop of Colombo and an outspoken critic of the Sri Lankan government's apparent failure to act on Indian government intelligence ahead of the Easter attacks, said in the letter that he was closing churches and Catholic schools throughout Sri Lanka and cancelling public congregations for Mass "until further notice."

"For your own good, we have decided to close down those institutions," he wrote.

Church spokesman Reverand Edmund Thilakaratne in an interview confirmed the authenticity of the letter to The Associated Press but declined to disclose further details, including the source of the foreign information.

Death toll from Easter Sunday attacks rises to 257

The death toll from the Easter suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka has risen to 257, authorities said on Thursday.

They warned that the final number of dead from the April 21 attacks on three churches and three Colombo hotels would rise further.

"The death toll stands at 257 as of now," Anil Jasinghe, government director general of health services, told AFP.

"The death toll slowly increased because there were some in-hospital deaths. There are some body parts as well so it is actually 257-plus."

At least 40 of the dead are foreigners, with some missing tourists still to be accounted for.

According to the latest count, 496 injured were admitted to hospitals, with 47 still being treated and 12 of those in intensive care.

Catholics cancel Sunday mass over new bomb fears

Sri Lanka's Roman Catholic Church said it had cancelled plans to resume Sunday services because of fears of fresh bomb attacks.

A spokesman for the cardinal said on Thursday the Church received "specific information of two possible attacks against churches," and it was decided to call off the May 5 mass.

"On the advice of the security forces, we have decided not to have Sunday masses in any of the churches," the spokesman told AFP.

The Church had planned to resume public services for the first time since the Easter Sunday attacks.

Foreign mastermind may be behind bombings – President Sirisena

A foreign mastermind may have planned the Sri Lankan Easter Sunday bombings, Sri Lanka's President Sirisena told Sky News

Sirisena also warned it may be possible Daesh has launched a "new strategy" by targeting smaller countries.

Sri Lanka to resume Mass on Sunday - cardinal

Public Mass will resume on Sunday May 5, Sri Lanka's Catholic Church said on Tuesday, two weeks after Easter Sunday bombings killed 253 people at three churches and three luxury hotels.

"On the 5th of May we are going to begin Masses," Archbishop of Colombo, Ranjith said. 

"But we will start with a smaller number of Masses and see if we can slowly increase it depending on how the situation develops," Ranjith said.

Social media ban lifted - president's office

The Sri Lankan government has lifted a ban on social media platforms intended to stop the spread of rumours after the Easter Sunday bombings, a source from the president's office said on Tuesday.

The ban on platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber has been lifted with immediate effect, the source told Reuters.

Security in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka remains tight after the April 21 suicide bomb attacks on hotels and churches.

More attacks imminent - security officials

Sri Lankan security officials warned that the group behind Easter Sunday's suicide bombings are planning imminent attacks and could be dressed in military uniforms.

"There could be another wave of attacks," the head of ministerial security division (MSD), a unit of the police, said in a letter to lawmakers and other officials, seen by Reuters on Monday.

The militants were targeting five locations for attacks on Sunday just passed or on Monday, security sources said.

"The relevant information further notes that persons dressed in military uniforms and using a van could be involved in the attacks."

There were no attacks on Sunday, and security across Sri Lanka has been ramped up.

Tourist arrivals in Colombo to drop by 50 percent 

Tourist arrivals in Colombo will fall by 50 percent following the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people, Sri Lanka's Tourism Bureau Chairman Kishu Gomes said on Monday.

Tourist arrivals in areas outside Colombo will go down by about 30 percent over the next two months following the bombings, he added.

Sri Lankan Airlines CEO said the state-owned air carrier had a 10 percent increase in cancellations last week and he expects the number to go up.

Sri Lanka president appoints new acting police chief

President Sirisena said on Monday he had appointed Chandana Wickramaratne, the second in command of the police, as acting police chief, the latest change in personnel after Easter Sunday suicide bombings.

Over the weekend, two sources in the president's office told Reuters that Pujith Jayasundara, the police chief during the April 21 attacks, was refusing a request from the president to step down.

Sri Lanka bans face covering

President Sirisena on Sunday announced a ban on face covering, a week after terrorists carried out coordinated suicide bombings that killed 253 people.

Sirisena said he was using emergency powers to ban any form of face covering in public. The restriction will take effect from Monday, his office said in a statement.

"The ban is to ensure national security... No one should obscure their faces to make identification difficult," the statement said.

It came days after local Islamic scholars urged Muslim women not to cover their faces amid fears of a backlash after the bombings carried out by affiliated to Daesh.

Muslims in the majority Buddhist nation account for about 10 percent of its 21 million population. Only a small number of women wear the face veil or niqab, as it's known.

Police raid headquarters of group suspected of suicide bombings

Sri Lankan armed police on Sunday launched a search of the headquarters of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), suspected of being behind the suicide bombings on churches and hotels that killed more than 250 people.

The raid took place at the NTJ's base in the eastern town of Kattankudy a day after the group was banned under new emergency laws. 

Police believe that Hashim, the alleged mastermind of the Easter Sunday attacks, led the group or a splinter faction to mount the attacks in Colombo as well as a church in Batticaloa in the east

Father, two brothers of Sri Lanka suicide bombings mastermind killed - police sources

The father and two brothers of the suspected mastermind of Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday bombings were killed when security forces stormed their safe house two days ago, police sources and a relative of the suicide bombers told Reuters 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 in the east coast city of Kalmunai on Friday, four police sources said.

Niyaz Sharif said the video showed his brother-in-law Hashim's two brothers and father.

Afraid but unbowed: Sri Lanka Catholics pray for Easter bombing victims

Church bells tolled mournfully at Colombo's devastated St Anthony's Shrine on Sunday, as scores of Christians wept but defiantly prayed and lit candles for the victims of the horrific Easter bombings.

The bells rang out at 8.45 am, the moment a suicide bomber detonated his device inside the 18th-century church on Easter Sunday, one of six attacks on churches and luxury hotels that left 253 dead.

The bomber destroyed part of the shrine's roof and scarred its walls with shrapnel, damaging the clock tower whose hands were still stuck at 8:45, a grim reminder of the dest ruction wreaked.

The island's Roman Catholic leadership has suspended all public services, fearing new attacks.

But on Sunday morning, as Sri Lanka's Christians sought to come to terms with the tragedy, scores of Catholics held a heavily guarded vigil outside the Colombo church.

From teenagers to elderly men and women, to parents carrying their children in their arms, the crowd gradually swelled, as worshippers came out on to the streets to mourn.

As they prayed and wept -- some in silence, others loudly sobbing, some fingered rosary beads, while others sang hymns and lit candles, placing them inside metal boxes as a makeshift memorial to the victims.

Keuslaus Stanislaus said he had travelled to St Anthony's because he "wanted to participate in a mass in some way".

"We wanted to participate because we haven't been able to worship all week," the 30-year-old said.

'Insult to humanity'

For those living near the church, the bombing felt like a personal onslaught.

"I come to this church every Sunday. It feels like my second home. It's like people blasted my own home," said Dharshika Fernando, struggling to hold back tears.

"We don't know when the church will open again but we want it back soon," the 19-year-old said.

About an hour after the vigil began, worshippers fell silent as the parish priest walked out to the entrance of the church and held up a statue of St Anthony. The crowd raised their hands in prayer before resuming their solemn hymns.

Navy forces have been deployed to clean up the church, remove bloodstains from its ceiling and wash away the overpowering stench of death that still lingered a week after the bombing.

At the tightly-guarded Roman Catholic Archbishop's residence in Colombo, Ranjith condemned the attacks as "an insult to humanity", in a private mass that was broadcast live on the country's television channels.

With President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse in the small congregation, the cardinal appealed for peace and unity in the multi-ethnic island of 21 million people.

"In the name of God we cannot destroy any person," he said.

"What happened last Sunday is a great tragedy, an insult to humanity," the cardinal said, urging followers to show kindness to others as a sign of respect for all the victims.

The authorities have blamed the attacks on a local group affiliated to Daesh, which has claimed responsibility.

Daesh claims attack in Kalmunai

Daesh has claimed responsibility for three men who blew themselves up in clashes with Sri Lankan police, the terror group said in a statement.

The men set off explosives after an hour-long gun battle with police Saturday, inside what was believed to be a terrorist hideout near the eastern town of Kalmunai, in the latest fallout from the Easter attacks.

Daesh said three of its members detonated their bombs after a fight with police.

Fifteen people died in the clashes, police said, including three women and six children.

The violence came six days after the Easter Day bombings on three churches and three luxury hotels which killed at least 253 people and injured 500.

Security forces armed with emergency powers have stepped up search operations for any militants since the bombings.

Kalmunai is in the same region as the home town of Hashim who founded the group accused of staging the attacks.

'Indian police warned Sri Lankan govt about NTJ'

Ajai Sahni, the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, said the Indian police knew it all.

Indian police were investigating suspected sympathisers of Daesh in southern India when a name they had no record of surfaced — National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), the militant group that authorities say conducted the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people.

The police managed to break into the group's communications and began tapping into the plot for what would become the bloodiest attack, Sahni said.

"That is why the kind of detailing of the incident they received was very, very specific," he said. 

"They knew the group, they knew the targets, they knew the time, they knew the whereabouts of the suicide bombers, and all of this was communicated to the Sri Lankan government."

Top Sri Lankan officials have acknowledged that some of the island nation's intelligence units were given advance notice about the attacks — starting weeks ago and up until the morning of the bombings — but that little was done to prevent them.

Groups linked to bombings banned

Sri Lanka's president is banning two groups allegedly linked to the Easter bombings under emergency powers that came into effect on Tuesday.

The office of President Sirisena said in a statement Saturday evening that NTJ and Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI) would be banned by presidential decree.

Presidential spokesman Dharmasri Ekanayake says the move allows the government to confiscate any property belonging to the two organisations.

15 killed in shoot-out  

The bodies of 15 people, including six children, were discovered at the site of a fierce overnight gun battle on the east coast of Sri Lanka, a military spokesman said on Saturday, six days after a rash of suicide bomber attacks that killed more than 250 people.

The gun battle between troops and suspected militants erupted on Friday evening in Sainthamaruthu in Ampara, to the south of the town of Batticaloa, site of one of the Easter Sunday blasts at luxury hotels and churches.

The police and military had earlier said four gunmen and a civilian had been killed in the shootout.

The 15 were found in the morning during clearance operations. 

Travel warning

The US Department of State has "ordered the departure of all school-age family members of US government employees in kindergarten through 12th grade," it said in a statement, adding that it had also authorised non-emergency personnel to leave.

"Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, hospitals, and other public areas," it said.

Shooting during police raid

Police have conducted raids in Ampara District of Eastern Province of Sri Lanka as part of the ongoing investigation into the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks, which killed over 250.

A military spokesman said soldiers exchanged gunfire with suspects after attempting to raid a building in Sri Lanka's Eastern Province.

Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said the gunbattle happened in the coastal town of Sammanthurai, 325 km (200 miles) from the capital, Colombo.

During one search operation, authorities found a stock of explosives and other raw materials used to manufacture bombs.

The raid took place in the town of Ampara Sainthamaruthu near Batticaloa in search of those responsible for the bombings.

''A search found explosives used to produce bombs, IS [Daesh] uniforms, curtains with IS [Daesh] logo, 150 gelignite sticks, 100,000 metal balls and a drone camera from a house in Samanthurai," a spokesman said. 

No details of casualties from the raids were immediately available, but journalist Roel Raymond told TRT World a civilian was caught in the crossfire, without further elaborating.

Nearly 10,000 soldiers were deployed across the Indian Ocean island state to carry out searches and provide security for religious centres, the military said on Friday.

Sunday Masses cancelled in Sri Lanka

The archbishop of Colombo said there will be no Sunday Masses until further notice after the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka.

Ranjith made the comment during a news conference on Friday in the Sri Lankan capital.

Ranjith appealed for financial support to rebuild the lives of affected people and reconstruct the churches targeted in the Daesh-claimed suicide bombings, which killed 253 people on Sunday.

Countries warn travellers of more threats

Australia has warned travellers that "terrorists are likely to carry out further attacks in Sri Lanka."

Australia's threat level remained unchanged, advising travellers to "reconsider your need to travel" to Sri Lanka, one tier below the highest warning of "do not travel."

The US has also warned Americans to avoid places of worship in Sri Lanka due to potential for more attacks. 

Britain advised its citizens against travelling to the island country. Germany issued similar warnings.

Police hunt for suspects

Sri Lankan police are trying to track down suspects, especially those believed to be linked to the terror group that claimed responsibility for the attacks. 

At least 140 people believed linked to Daesh are being hunted by the police, President Sirisena said on Friday.

Saudi money may have gone to 'extreme organisations' - PM

Sri Lankan authorities are investigating the source of funding to terrorist organisations that may be operating in the country, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said in an interview on Thursday.

"Well there has been money coming in from Saudi Arabia over the last 20, 30 years to religious organisations ... I don't know who are the agencies who sent it. I mean Saudi Arabia or the Middle East has been the source of many of those funds and some of it has gone into these extreme organisations," the prime minister told AP.

He said the authorities are investigating.

Mosques hold Friday prayers despite warning

Some mosques in Sri Lanka held Friday prayers despite the potential for attacks after the Easter suicide bombings.

At 12:10 pm local time, the call to prayer echoed through the Masjidus Salam Jumma Masjid mosque in the capital Colombo.

"We are sending a message to extremists that we will not be scared or deterred," said Reyyaz Salley, chairman of the Dawatagaha Jumma mosque.

"But the main reason we are here is because we want to say a special prayer for the victims of the church bombings," he added.

Sri Lankan authorities had asked Muslims to pray at home rather than attend communal Friday prayers that are the most important of the week.

Armed police stood guard outside mosques on Friday.

Wanted radical leader died in hotel bombing – president

A local extremist group leader believed to have played a key role in Sri Lanka's deadly Easter bombings led an attack against a Colombo hotel, the country's president confirmed on Friday.

"What intelligence agencies have told me is that Zahran was killed during the Shangri-La attack," President Sirisena told reporters, referring to the leader of the local extremist group NTJ.

He added that Hashim led the attack against the high-end hotel and was accompanied by a second bomber, identified only as "Ilham."

He said the information came from military intelligence and was based in part on CCTV footage recovered from the scene.

Hashim appeared in a video released by Daesh after it claimed the bombings, but his whereabouts after the blasts were not immediately clear.

Security forces had been on a hunt for Hashim, believed to be around 40, after the government named the NTJ as its prime suspect.

Sri Lanka police chief resigns

Sri Lanka's top police official, Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, has resigned over failures that led to the deadly Easter bomb attacks, the country's president said Friday.

"The IGP has resigned. He has sent his resignation to the acting defence secretary. I'll nominate a new IGP soon," President Sirisena said. 

Sirisena's nominee has to be confirmed by a constitutional council.

The resignation comes after the country's top defence ministry official, defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday.

Also on Friday, an official Sri Lanka police Twitter account was deleted after it misidentified a US human rights activist as a suspected Sri Lankan serial bomber

Late Thursday, police posted the names and photos of three women and two men on Twitter that they said were at-large suspects in the Easter Sunday assault.

One of the named was a US activist, who quickly tweeted that she had been falsely identified.

Sri Lankan police replied with an apology for the "inconvenience."

Sri Lanka attacks' death toll around 250-260, not 359 - health official

The death toll in Sri Lanka's Easter Day attack is around 100 fewer than the 359 originally thought, a top health official told Reuters on Thursday.

"It could be 250 or 260. I can't exactly say. There are so many body parts and it is difficult to give a precise figure," Anil Jasinghe, the director general of Sri Lanka's health services told Reuters in a phone interview.

Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka's deputy defence minister whose ministry is responsible for the island's police force, said the death toll had been revised down to 253 due to inaccurate figures provided by the country's morgues.

"Unfortunately the health ministry provided the earlier number to us," he said.

Scared Muslim refugees flee Sri Lankan homes over attack fears

Hundreds of Muslim refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the deadly Easter bombings, activists said on Thursday.

The attacks have been condemned by leaders of the country's Muslim minority who have said mosques will not bury the bombers, and the community has been left in fear of a backlash.

Scores of Ahmadi Muslims who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords, according to officials.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that security forces were trying to help the Ahmadis.

Wickremesinghe said that some people "had become suspicious of foreigners, not of Muslims per se. In the heat of the moment, a few have been attacked."

Defence secretary resigns

The office of Sri Lanka's president said the country's defence secretary has resigned after security forces failed to prevent the spate of bombings.

The office issued a statement on Thursday saying that Hemasiri Fernando would continue to serve until his replacement has been appointed.

Government misidentifies Muslim American activist as an attack suspect

Sri Lankan authorities released a list of names and photos of six suspects wanted in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks – but had to retract one of them due to a case of mistaken identity. 

Amara Majeed is a Muslim American activist whose picture was erroneously placed on a suspect list next to the suspect's name Fatima Qadiya. 

"This is obviously completely false and frankly, considering that our communities are already greatly afflicted with issues of surveillance, I don't need more false accusations and scrutiny," Majeed wrote on Twitter.

All Sri Lanka Catholic church services suspended

All of Sri Lanka's Catholic churches have been ordered to stay closed and suspend services until security improves after deadly Easter bombings, a senior priest told AFP on Thursday.

"On the advice of the security forces we are keeping all churches closed," the priest said. 

"There will be no public mass said until further notice."

President calls for resignations of top security officials

Sri Lanka's president has asked for the resignations of the defence secretary and national police chief, after security forces failed to take action preventing the attacks.

It wasn't immediately clear who would be replacing them.

Nine suicide bombers

Sri Lanka police on Wednesday said investigations confirm there were nine suicide bombers, of whom eight have been identified.

One of the nine bombers was a woman, deputy defence minister Wijewardene told reporters on Wednesday.

More than 100 people have now been arrested in the country in connection with Easter Sunday blasts, Wijewardene said.

Ongoing terrorist plotting

The United States had no prior knowledge of the Easter Sunday suicide bombing attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, but now believes there is ongoing terrorism plotting in the country, Washington's ambassador to Colombo said on Wednesday.

"We had no prior knowledge of these attacks," Ambassador Alaina Teplitz told reporters in Colombo. 

"We believe there are ongoing terrorist plots. Terrorists can strike without warning. Typical venues are large gatherings, public spaces."

Death toll rises to 359 people 

Police say the death toll in the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested.

Police spokesman Gunasekara also said on Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58.

President vows security reorganisation

Sri Lanka's president on Tuesday vowed a major shake-up of the military's top brass in the wake of the deadly Easter suicide bombings after the government admitted warnings were ignored.

President Sirisena, who is also defence and law and order minister, said he will carry out a complete reorganisation of the security forces and the police under his control.

"I hope to make major changes in the leadership of the security forces in the next 24 hours," the president said in a nationwide address.

"The restructuring of the security forces and the police will be completed within a week."

More militants still 'out there' - PM

Sri Lanka's prime minister warned there are more explosives and militants "out there" after Easter suicide bombings that killed over 320 people.

Wickremesinghe made the comment on Tuesday at a news conference and said some officials will likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses surrounding the attack.

Wickremesinghe acknowledged there was a prior warning, and said India's embassy was eyed as a possible target.

The toll from the coordinated bombings at churches, luxury hotels and other sites now stands at 321 dead and 500 wounded. 

He said a planned attack at a fourth hotel failed and that the leader of a local militant group blamed for the assault may have led the attacks and been killed.

Meanwhile, Sirisena on Tuesday showed foreign diplomats pictures of suspected bombers and gave a briefing to diplomats based in Colombo after the Easter Sunday blasts.

New Zealand: No intel linking Sri Lanka bombings

The office of New Zealand's prime minister said she is aware of comments linking Sri Lanka's Easter bombings to the mosque attacks in Christchurch, but hasn't "seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based."

The statement came on Tuesday after Sri Lanka's minister of defense, Wijewardene, made the claim to parliament, without offering evidence.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office also added that it understood "the Sri Lankan investigation into the attack is in its early stages."

The Christchurch shootings killed 50 people in March.

FBI assisting Sri Lanka authorities with probe of bomb attacks - FBI

The FBI is assisting Sri Lankan authorities with their investigation of the bomb attacks, a spokeswoman for the US law enforcement agency said on Tuesday.

The Washington Post earlier had reported that the FBI had offered expertise to test evidence and that analysts were scouring databases for information regarding the attacks.

Daesh claims responsibility for Sri Lanka bombings

Daesh has claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings, the group's AMAQ propaganda agency said on Tuesday. 

45 children killed in Sri Lanka attacks - UN

At least 45 children were among the more than 320 people killed in the suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, the United Nations said Tuesday. 

"The total now is 45 children who died," UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva. 

He stressed that others "are wounded and are now fighting for their lives," meaning the toll among minors from the Sunday attacks could rise. The number wounded was close to 500.

'Retaliation for Christchurch'

Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday bomb attacks were retaliation for a recent twin attack on mosques in New Zealand on March 15, a Sri Lankan official said on Tuesday, adding that two domestic militant groups were believed to be responsible.

"The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack," junior minister for defence Wijewardene told parliament.

"It was done by National Thowheeth Jama’ath along with JMI," he said, referring to another local group.

Wijewardene made the comments without providing evidence or explaining where the information came from.

Wijewardene told Parliament the government possessed information that the bombings were carried out "by an Islamic fundamentalist group" in response to the Christchurch attacks. He also blamed "weakness" within Sri Lanka's security apparatus for failing to prevent the nine bombings.

"By now it has been established that the intelligence units were aware of this attack and a group of responsible people were informed about the impending attack," Wijewardene said. "However, this information has been circulated among only a few officials."

Security measures ramped up

Authorities in Sri Lanka further increased security measures on Tuesday after the Easter Sunday suicide bombings.

Police issued orders that anyone parking a car on the street and leaving it unattended must put a note with their phone number on the windscreen.

Postal officials meanwhile said they would no longer accept pre-wrapped parcels for mailing.

Ignored warning raises questions

A warning shared with Sri Lankan security agencies on April 11 said a local group was planning a suicide terror attack against churches in Sri Lanka.

Priyalal Disanayaka, the deputy inspector general of police, signed the letter addressed to the directors of four Sri Lankan security agencies. He asked the four security directors to "pay extra attention" to the places and VIPs in their care.

The intelligence report attached to his letter said the NTJ was targeting "some important churches" in a suicide terrorist attack that was planned to take place "shortly." 

The report named six individuals likely to be involved in the plot.

Attackers had incendiary leader

The purported leader of the NTJ began posting videos online three years ago calling for non-Muslims to be "eliminated," faith leaders said on Tuesday.

Much remained unclear about how the little-known group called carried out six large near-simultaneous suicide bombings striking churches and hotels.

"Some of the intelligence people saw his picture but they didn't take action," said N M Ameen, the president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka.

Syrian national detained

Sri Lankan police detained a Syrian national for questioning over the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels, three government and military sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

"The terrorist investigation division of the police arrested a Syrian national following the attacks for interrogation," a source said. 

Two other officials with knowledge of the investigation confirmed the detention. "He was arrested after the interrogation of local suspects," a second source said.

Police arrest 40 suspects, up to 310 dead

Police spokesman Gunasekara said the death toll from Sunday's attacks has risen to 310.

As a state of emergency took effect on Tuesday giving the Sri Lankan military war-time powers, police arrested 40 suspects, including the driver of a van allegedly used by the suicide bombers and the owner of a house where some of them lived.

Sri Lankan authorities also planned to brief foreign diplomats and receive assistance from the FBI and other foreign intelligence-gathering agencies after officials disclosed Monday that warnings had been received weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by a small but radical group blamed for the bloodshed.

Day of mourning 

Sri Lankans across the island nation began observing three minutes of silence early on Tuesday morning to pay tribute to the victims.

National flags were lowered and people bowed their heads as the silence began at 0300GMT (8:30 am local time), the time the first of six attacks occurred on Sunday.

In Negombo, mass burials started at a cemetery near St Sebastian church, one of the attack sites.

FBI says it's aiding Sri Lanka investigation

The FBI said it's providing assistance in the investigation into the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka.

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the aid on Monday but did not elaborate on what specific help was being offered or provided.

The FBI routinely helps foreign governments in investigating terror attacks outside the United States, including by providing agents on the ground or technical expertise.

Military given sweeping powers after bombings

Sri Lanka's president gave the military sweeping police powers starting on Tuesday in the wake of the Easter bombings, while officials disclosed that intelligence agencies had warned weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by the extremist group blamed for the bloodshed.

The military was given a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects — powers that were used during the civil war but withdrawn when it ended.

These power were given to the military under a state of emergency that came into effect at 1830GMT on Monday.

Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could unleash instability and he vowed to "vest all necessary powers with the defence forces" to act against those responsible.

Social media shutdown raises fears on free expression

Sri Lanka's decision to block social media following deadly suicide attacks highlights a growing distrust of online platforms, but critics said the move is likely to restrict the flow of important news and information as well as abusive content.

The move comes amid growing frustration by governments around the world with internet platforms over the propagation of misinformation and incitements of violence.

According to the digital rights group NetBlocks, Sri Lanka blocked Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger following the Easter bombings targeting churches and hotels.

39 foreign nationals among killed 

A total of 39 foreign nationals, including two Turkish people, lost their lives in the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, local media reported.

Turkey, Japan, the UK, Denmark, India, the Netherlands, China, Australia and Portugal are the countries that have confirmed casualties of their citizen.

However, there is conflicting information from Sri Lanka government officials about how many foreigners died in the attacks.

Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said 39 foreigners were killed. But the country's foreign ministry put the number of foreigners killed 31. The differing figures could not immediately be reconciled late Monday night.

National day of mourning

Sri Lanka's president has declared April 23 a national day of mourning.

President Sirisena's office announced the measure in a statement late Monday.

The statement also said that Sirisena would meet with foreign diplomats to seek international assistance.

It citied intelligence agencies' reports that "international groups" were involved with the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. The statement did not provide more details about the groups.

The statement also said the president instructed Sri Lanka's security forces to provide additional security at the nation's Catholic churches.

PM not alerted to warning because of feud - minister

A rift between Sri Lanka's president and prime minister, which sparked a crisis last year, came under scrutiny, with questions over how the government handled a recent warning of an attack.

The premier has been kept out of intelligence briefings since he fell out with the president, a government minister said, a day after the attacks.

Police had been warned this month about a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic extremist group, according to a document seen by Reuters.

But Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had not been told of the report, dated April 11, that said a foreign intelligence agency had warned of attacks on churches by domestic militant group NTJ, Health Minister Rajith Senaratne told reporters.

It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken in response to the tip-off.

"When we asked about the intelligence report, the prime minister was not aware of this," said Senaratne, who also briefs reporters on the deliberations of the cabinet.

It was not clear if the president, Sirisena, was aware of the report but the top security organisation, the Security Council, reports to him, while the prime minister was no longer invited to council meetings because of the rift, Senaratne said.

The president was out of the country when the bombers struck. His office declined to comment.

Attacks carried out by seven suicide bombers

A government investigator said on Monday that the coordinated Easter Sunday bombings that ripped through Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels were carried out by seven suicide bombers.

The bombings, Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war ended a decade ago on the island nation, killed at least 290 people with more than 500 wounded, Gunasekara said on Monday.

Government says local radical group behind blasts

The Sri Lankan government believes a local extremist group called the NTJ was behind the deadly suicide bomb attacks that killed nearly 300 people, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said on Monday.

Senaratne, who is also a cabinet minister, added that the government was investigating whether the group had "international support".

"We don't see that only a small organisation in this country can do all that," he said.

Not much is known about the NTJ, a group that came to prominence last December when its followers were accused of attacking Buddhist statues in Kegalle district.

The act outraged the country's majority Buddhist community.

NTJ secretary Abdul Razik has been arrested several times on charges of inciting religious unrest.

Sri Lanka's police chief issued a warning on April 11, saying a "foreign intelligence agency" had reported NTJ was planning attacks on churches and the Indian high commission.

'International network' involved in the bombings

The Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka were carried out with the help of an international network, cabinet spokesman 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."

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan police investigating the bombings are examining reports that intelligence agencies had warnings of possible attacks, officials said the day after the assault.

Two government ministers have alluded to intelligence failures. Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted that his father had heard of the possibility of an attack as well and had warned him not to enter popular churches.

Mano Ganeshan, the minister for national integration, said his ministry's security officers had been warned by their division about the possibility that two suicide bombers would target politicians.

'To use social media responsibly'

Sri Lanka's UN ambassador is cautioning Sri Lankans overseas "to use social media responsibly" in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings in their country.

Amrith Rohan Perera's statement Monday came after his government shut down most social sites within the island nation. The move reflected rising distrust in American internet giants' ability to control harmful content.

The ambassador said the government is temporarily blocking sites "to prevent speculative and mischievous attempts to spread rumours until investigations are concluded."

He urged expatriates to use social platforms to support one another but to "prevent inadvertently spread panic and mistrust."

'There was blood everywhere'

The police's Criminal Investigation Department, which is handling the investigation into the blasts, will look into those reports, Gunasekara said.

Earlier, Defense Minister Wijewardena described the blasts as a terrorist attack by extremists, and police said 13 suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Wijewardena said most of the bombings were believed to have been suicide attacks.

But officials have yet to say who they believe is behind the attacks. The Tamil Tigers, once a powerful rebel army known for their use of suicide bombers, were crushed by the government in 2009. They also had little history of targeting Christians. 

While anti-Muslim bigotry fed by ultra-nationalist Buddhist has swept Sri Lanka in recent years, the island also has no history of violent Muslim militants. The country's small Christian community has seen only scattered incidents of harassment in recent years.

Sunday's attacks – mostly in or around Colombo, the capital – collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests in one scene after another of smoke, soot, blood, broken glass, screams and wailing alarms.

A morgue worker in the town of Negombo, outside Colombo, where St. Sebastian's Church was targeted, said many bodies were hard to identify because of the extent of the injuries. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

At the Shangri-La Hotel, a witness said "people were being dragged out" after the blast.

"There was blood everywhere," said Bhanuka Harischandra a 24-year-old from Colombo and founder of a tech marketing company. He was heading to the hotel for a meeting when it was bombed. "People didn't know what was going on. It was panic mode."

Most of those killed were Sri Lankans. But the three bombed hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony's Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists, and Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners from a variety of countries were recovered.

The foreign victims included nationals from Turkey, Britain, China, India, Japan, Portugal and the US.

Streets in the capital were largely deserted on Monday morning, with most shops closed and a heavy deployment of soldiers and police. Stunned clergy and onlookers gathered at St. Anthony's Shrine, looking past the soldiers to the stricken church.

Curfew lifted after the chaotic night

The Sri Lankan government lifted a curfew that had been imposed during the night. But most social media remained blocked on Monday after officials said they needed to curtail the spread of false information and ease tension in the country of about 21 million people.

Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could trigger instability in Sri Lanka, and he vowed to "vest all necessary powers with the defence forces" to take action against those responsible.

Ranjith called on Sri Lanka's government to "mercilessly" punish those responsible "because only animals can behave like that."

The scale of the bloodshed recalled the worst days of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, when the Tamil Tigers, from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from the Sinhalese-dominated country. The Sinhalese are largely Buddhist. The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India, is about 70 percent Buddhist. In recent years, tensions have been running high between hard-line Buddhist monks and Muslims.

Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks, as did countries around the world. Catholic Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in Rome.

Six simultaneous bombs

Six nearly simultaneous blasts took place in the morning at the shrine and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo, as well as at two churches outside Colombo.

A few hours later, two more blasts occurred just outside Colombo, one at a guesthouse where two people were killed, the other near an overpass, a Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brig. Sumith Atapattu said.

Also, three police officers were killed during a search at a suspected safe house on the outskirts of Colombo when its occupants apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest, authorities said.

Authorities said a large bomb had been found and defused late Sunday on an access road to the international airport.

Air Force Group Captain Gihan Seneviratne said Monday that authorities found a pipe bomb filled with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives. It was large enough to have caused damage to a 400-metre (400-yard) radius, he said.

Harischandra, who witnessed the attack at the Shangri-La Hotel, said there was "a lot of tension" after the bombings, but added: "We've been through these kinds of situations before."

He said Sri Lankans are "an amazing bunch" and noted that his social media feed was flooded with photos of people standing in long lines to give blood.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies