Sri Lanka attacks: ‘International network’ linked to bombings

102

International desk, April 22: A wave of bombings that killed 290 people in Sri Lanka on Sunday was carried out with the support of an international network, officials said.The government has blamed a little-known local jihadist group, National Thowheed Jamath, although no-one has yet admitted carrying out the bombings, BBC reports.

Another 500 people were injured in the suicide attacks on churches and hotels.

Police arrested 24 people in a series of raids and the president’s office declared a state of national emergency.

The emergency declaration, which comes into effect from midnight (18:30 GMT) on Monday, will give police and military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

On Monday, another blast rocked a street near a church in the capital, Colombo. Police were attempting to defuse explosives in a vehicle used by the attackers when it blew up. It is not yet known if anyone was hurt.

Sri Lankan authorities were warned about a bomb threat from National Thowheed Jamath a full two weeks before the attacks, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said at a press conference.

He said that the warnings were not passed on to the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, or his cabinet. Mr Wickremesinghe acknowledged that security services had been “aware of information” but had not acted on the information.

Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando told the BBC that the intelligence “never indicated it was going to be an attack of this magnitude”.

“They were talking about isolated, one or two incidents. Not like this,” he said.

He said “all important departments of the police” were informed about the warning, but acknowledged that no action was taken.

Mr Senaratne said that authorities believed the bombers had international support. “We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” he said, adding: “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

A later statement said President Maithripala Sirisena would ask for foreign help to track down the international links to the attackers.

“The intelligence reports [indicate] that foreign terrorist organisations are behind the local terrorists. Therefore, the president is to seek the assistance of the foreign countries,” his office said.

A curfew is to be imposed from 20:00 (14:30 GMT) until 04:00 on Tuesday, the government said. A national day of mourning has been scheduled for Tuesday.

Sri Lanka’s National Security Council said a “conditional state of emergency” from midnight would target “terrorism” and would not limit freedom of expression.

In another development, the US State Department issued revised travel advice urging greater caution, adding, “Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka.”