Sri Lanka intensifies crackdown on terror suspects; 16 more held

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Published: April 25, 2019 1:54:54 PM

Many of the arrested people have suspected links to the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), the group blamed for the bombings.

Authorities have deployed thousands of troops to help police carry out search operations. (Representational Image)

The Sri Lankan authorities Thursday intensified their raids with the help of the army and arrested 16 more suspects in connection with the country’s worst terror attack on Easter Sunday that killed nearly 360 people and left over 500 injured. The arrested people were being interrogated at length by the investigation sleuths in connection with the bombings.

Nine suicide bombers, believed to be the members of a local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels. As many as 359 people have been killed in the attacks while 500 others injured, according to authorities. Officials said that with the arrest of 16 more people on Wednesday, the total number of suspects under police custody has risen to 76.

Many of the arrested people have suspected links to the NTJ, the group blamed for the bombings. However, the NTJ has not claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks and identified suicide bombers who carried out the devastating blasts.

Authorities have deployed thousands of troops to help police carry out search operations. Over 5,000 army personnel have been deployed around the country. “During the last 24 hours, there have been no major incidents. We have deployed over 6,300 troops. This includes 1,000 from the Airforce and 600 from the Navy,” military spokesman Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said.

Meanwhile, a minor explosion happened behind the magistrate’s court at Pugoda, the western province town, 40 Kms north of Colombo. There was no immediate report of any casualty. The Police said that the explosion occurred in a garbage dump and that there were no injuries. A probe has been launched to ascertain the cause. Search operations of suspected properties, arrests and detention of people and to place road blocks for such operations have been facilitated by the newly-enforced emergency regulations.

The regulations were adopted without a vote in Parliament on Wednesday. The curfew which was imposed at 10 PM on Wednesday was lifted at 4 AM on Thursday. President Maithripala Sirisena has convened an all-party meeting. He would meet religious leaders.

Both parleys are to discuss the attacks dubbed as among the five deadliest terrorist attacks carried out since the 9/11 in the US. Though Sirisena has asked police chief Pujith Jayasundera and defence ministry secretary Hemasiri Fernando to step down, there was no confirmation if they have resigned.

The police chief’s position is an independent post determined by the Constitutional Council. He cannot be constitutionally removed unless he resigns himself or removed thorough a parliamentary procedure, officials said.

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the head of the local catholic church, has asked all churches to stop masses until the situation improved, his office said. On Wednesday, the Sri Lankan government admitted that “major” intelligence lapses led to the horrific coordinated attacks.

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