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Sri Lanka bombings 'revenge of NZ'; toll crosses 320

Last updated on: April 23, 2019 16:10 IST

IMAGE: A woman reacts next to two coffins during a mass burial of victims, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, at a cemetery near St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka on Tuesday. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Sri Lanka's worst terror attack targeting churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday was carried out by local Islamic extremists in retaliation for the mosque shootings in New Zealand, a senior minister informed Parliament on Tuesday, citing results of the initial probe.

Addressing an emergency session of Parliament to discuss Sunday's attacks, Sri Lanka's state minister of defence Ruwan Wijewardene said the early findings of the ongoing probe found that the suicide bombings were in revenge for the March 15 deadly attacks at two mosques in Christchurch which left 50 people dead.

 

"The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka (on Sunday) was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch," Wijewardene told parliament.

According to an intelligence memo sent to some government officials before the attack, a member of the Islamic extremist group blamed for the Sri Lanka attacks had posted ‘extremist content’ on social media after the Christchurch shootings were carried out by a right-wing extremist, Wijewardene said.

The government has blamed National Thowfeek Jamaath (NTJ) after seven suicide bombers struck three churches and three hotels.

Wijewardene has proposed banning the NTJ.

The suicide bombers were all Sri Lankan citizens but the group is believed to have links with foreign terrorist networks.

IMAGE: A woman cries next to the coffins of her relatives who were killed in an explosion at St Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, on Tuesday. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

However, no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Noting that the attacks were carried out by the local extremists, Wijewardene said the death toll in the gruesome bombings had risen to 321, including 38 foreigners.

10 Indians were among the people killed in the worst terror attack in Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe described the Easter Sunday's attacks as ‘global terrorism reaching Sri Lanka’.

Wickremesinghe said in his address in Parliament that the attacks were of a different nature than the political objectives of the terrorist campaign which Sri Lanka faced until 2009 when the three-decade long conflict ended with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.

"Muslim community is against these attacks. There are only a few who are involved in these attacks," Wickremesinghe said, adding that the international community has expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka over the blasts.

The group which carried out the attacks was trained for the planned attacks.

IMAGE: People react as silence is observed as a tribute to victims, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

The government will deal with the situation and end the threats from extremists, he said.

Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa blamed the government for failing to ensure national security.

"When I handed over the government it was free of terrorism. No such attack would have happened under my government," he said.

Rajapaksa said the government must step down if public security cannot be guaranteed.

A shell-shocked Sri Lanka started a day of national mourning on Tuesday with a three-minute silence to pay homage to the victims of the gruesome bombings.

A state of emergency took effect on Tuesday giving the Sri Lankan military war-time powers, with police arresting 40 suspects, including the driver of a van allegedly used by suicide bombers involved in deadly Easter bombings.

National flags were lowered to half mast and people bowed their heads as the silence began at 8.30 am local time, the time the first of the deadly attacks occurred on Sunday.

"We have declared today a day of national mourning, we urge people to raise a white flag in honour of the victims," said Kamal Padmasiri, Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

IMAGE: Security personnel observe three minutes of silence as a tribute to victims. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

He said a three-minute silence was observed nationwide and the national flag will be flown at half-mast.

The Sri Lankan government has apologised for its failure to act despite receiving advance intelligence inputs about the possibility of terror attacks.

Government spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne said that the warnings about the blasts were received in the days before the attacks, the CNN reported.

"We saw the warnings and we saw the details given," he said.

"We are very, very sorry, as a government we have to say -- we have to apologise to the families and the institutions about this incident," Senaratne, also the health minister, said.

All the families would be compensated and churches rebuilt, he said.

The spokesperson said that one of the warnings referred to National Tawheed Jamath, or NTJ, a little-known local Islamist group that defaced Buddhist statues in the past.

IMAGE: The funerals of most of the victims at the St Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo will be held on Tuesday afternoon. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

However, he did not believe that a local group could have acted alone.

"There must be a wider international network behind it," he said.

The funerals of most of the victims at the St Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo were held on Tuesday afternoon.

The office of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said that he would be personally attending the funerals held in the predominant Catholic region in the western coastal district.

"There will be a mass funeral for 60 of the dead at the St Sebastian's Church," a spokesman said.

For the first time since the attack, the traffic returned to roads in Colombo where security had been heightened with the presence of troops.

The emergency regulations that would allow police and the troops sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects came into force on Monday night.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando said the government never expected bombings of such magnitude and asserted that it would have been 'impossible' to protect a large number of churches in the country despite receiving prior intelligence about the attacks.

"It was quite impossible to protect a large number of churches last Sunday despite receiving prior information to these attacks," Fernando told reporters.

He said the government did not expect an attack of such magnitude to occur and the extensive measures to prevent the bombings despite would have been impossible.

'An emergency law is non-functional in this country since Sri Lanka is a democratic country. Therefore there is very little I can do' the Defence Secretary was quoted as saying by the Sunday Times.

Fernando noted that the state intelligence service had already informed the government of a small but organised and powerful criminal group operating in the country.

He said the Federal Bureau of Investigation has already commenced investigations into the incident while the Interpol is expected to arrive in the country on Tuesday.

The Defence Secretary also said the government will not provide protection to hotels as it is an aspect which must be looked after by their respective security officials.
Fernando said the government had not provided security to hotels even during the civil war.

Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock in a Twitter message has offered full support to the investigation being carried out by the Lankan authorities.

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