Sri Lanka wakes to emergency law as scores more arrested

Sri Lanka wakes to emergency law as scores more arrested

April 23, 2019

Colombo: Sri Lankans woke on Tuesday to emergency law as authorities search for those behind suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels that killed 290 people, as the number of people arrested since Sunday had risen from 24 to 40.

No group has yet to claim responsibility for Easter Sunday's attacks on three churches and four luxury hotels that also wounded about 500 people.

Relatives light candles after the burial of three victims of the same family, who died at Easter Sunday bomb blast at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka.Credit:AP

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said those arrested were mainly Sri Lankans, although he said police were investigating whether foreigners were involved in the attacks carried out by seven suicide bombers.

The President's office declared that emergency law would come into effect from midnight, giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders. An overnight curfew has also been in effect.

The declaration came after nerves were frayed even further in the seaside capital Colombo when explosives went off on Monday near one of the churches hit in Sunday's attacks while bomb squad officers were working to defuse a device.

CNN reported the blast was a controlled detonation.

Tuesday was also declared a national day of mourning.

Relatives place flowers after the burial of three victims of the same family who died at Easter Sunday bomb blast at St Sebastian Church in Negombo.Credit:AP

The attacks brought a shattering end to a relative calm that had existed in the Indian Ocean island since a bitter civil war fought by Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It also underlined concerns over fractures in the Sri Lankan government, with questions raised over whether an intelligence tip-off was shared at the appropriate levels.

A government spokesman has said an international network was involved in the bombings but suspicion has focused on Islamist militants in the Buddhist-majority South Asian country.

The nation of about 22 million people also has significant numbers of Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

US intelligence sources said the attacks carried hallmarks of the Islamic State extremist group, although they were cautious because the group had not claimed responsibility.

A document seen by Reuters showed that police had received a tip-off of a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group this month.

The intelligence report, dated April 11, said a foreign intelligence agency had warned authorities of possible attacks on churches by the National Thowheeth Jamaath group.

Questions over why the intelligence warning was not acted upon could feed into a feud between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena.

Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe last year only to be forced to reinstate him under pressure from the Supreme Court and their relationship is reported to be fraught.

International experts said, even if a Sri Lankan group had carried out the attacks, it was likely that al-Qaeda or Islamic State were involved given the level of sophistication of the coordinated bombings.

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including Australian mother Manik Suriaaratchi and her 10-year-old daughter Alexendria.

Others who died included British, US, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Japanese and Portuguese nationals.


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