Friday 23 August 2019

Sri Lankan police hunt 140 with Isil links as shooting erupts during raid

Shock: Girls react after seeing the damage to St Anthony's Shrine, in Colombo, after the bomb attacks. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Shock: Girls react after seeing the damage to St Anthony's Shrine, in Colombo, after the bomb attacks. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Sanjeev Miglani

Sri Lankan police are trying to track down 140 people believed to be linked to Isil, which claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed 253, as shooting erupted in the east during a raid.

Muslims in Sri Lanka were urged to pray at home after the State Intelligence Services warned of possible car bomb attacks, amid fears of retaliatory violence.

The US Embassy in Sri Lanka urged its citizens to avoid places of worship over the weekend after authorities reported there could be more attacks targeting religious centres.

Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told reporters he had seen a leaked internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and there would be no Catholic Masses tomorrow anywhere on the island.

The streets of Colombo were deserted yesterday evening, with many people leaving offices early amid tight security after the suicide bombing attacks on three churches and four hotels that also wounded about 500 people.

President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with Isil since 2013.

He said information uncovered so far suggested there were 140 people in Sri Lanka involved in Isil activities.

"Police are looking to arrest them," Mr Sirisena said.

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 yesterday.

The All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ullama, Sri Lanka's main Islamic religious body, urged Muslims to conduct prayers at home in case "there is a need to protect family and properties".

Illustrating the tension that has gripped the country, shooting erupted between security forces and a group of men in the east during a search and cordon operation, a military spokesman said.

The raid took place in the town of Ampara Sainthamaruthu, near Batticaloa.

The spokesman said that there was an explosion in the area and when soldiers went to investigate they were fired upon.

No details of casualties were immediately available.

Police have detained at least 76 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, in their investigations so far.

Isil provided no evidence to back its claim that it was behind the attacks.

If true, it would be one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria.

The government said nine homegrown, well-educated suicide bombers carried out the attacks.

Eight of them have been identified, and one was a woman.

Irish Independent

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