More detentions as death toll in Sri Lanka attacks rises to 359

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COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police said on Wednesday (Apr 24) they had detained 18 more people for questioning over the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels, claimed by the Islamic State group, as the death toll climbed again to 359.

The extremist Islamic State group made its claim after Sri Lankan officials said the suicide bombings in Sri Lanka were carried out in retaliation for attacks on two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people in March.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the death toll had risen to 359 from 321 overnight, with about 500 people wounded, but did not give a breakdown of casualties from the three churches and four hotels hit by the bombers.

READ: Singapore-based British mum and her two children among those killed in Sri Lanka blasts

A man holds a cross during a mass burial of victims at a cemetery near St. Sebastian Church in Nego

A man holds a cross 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, Apr 23, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

Islamic State said through its AMAQ news agency the assaults in Sri Lanka were carried out by seven attackers but gave no evidence to support its claim of responsibility. If true, it would be one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria.

Junior minister for defence Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament on Tuesday two Sri Lankan militant groups – the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim – were responsible for the blasts, which went off during Easter services and as hotels served breakfast.

Police continued searching homes across the Indian Ocean island nation overnight, leading to the detention of 18 more people. That brings the number of people taken in for questioning to close to 60, including one Syrian.

The overnight raids included areas near the Gothic-style St Sebastian church in Negombo, north of the capital, where scores were killed on Sunday, a police spokesman said. An unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka, the scene of Muslim riots in 2014.

READ: Sri Lanka warned of threat hours before suicide attacks

A woman who lost her husband and two children during the bombing at St Sebastian's Church yell

A woman who lost her husband and two children during the bombing at St Sebastian’s Church yells towards the graves during a mass burial for victims. (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

“Search operations are going on everywhere, there is tight checking of Muslim areas,” a security source said.

The Easter Sunday bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.

READ: For Sri Lanka grave digger, a grim parade

Men coordinate a mass burial of victimss at a cemetery near St. Sebastian Church in Negombo

Men coordinate 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. (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

The attacks have already foreshadowed a shake-up of Sri Lankan security forces, with President Maithripala Sirisena saying on Tuesday night he planned to change some of his defence chiefs after criticism that intelligence warnings of an Easter attack were ignored.

Three sources told Reuters that Sri Lankan intelligence officials had been warned by India hours before the blasts that attacks by militants were imminent. It was not clear what action, if any, was taken.

Most of those killed and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were also killed. That included British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

READ: Sri Lanka attacks show Islamic State influence outlives caliphate

Coffins are laid in the ground during a mass burial for victims at a cemetery near St Sebastian&apo

Coffins are laid in the ground during a mass burial for victims at a cemetery near St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, three days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Sri Lanka, Apr 24, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

The UN Children’s Fund said 45 children were among the dead.

Junior defence minister Wijewardene said investigators believed revenge for the Mar 15 mosque attacks in the New Zealand city of Christchurch was the motive but did not elaborate. The attacks during Friday prayers in Christchurch were carried out by a lone gunman.

The Sri Lankan government has imposed emergency law and an overnight curfew. It said it has also blocked online messaging services to stop the spread of inflammatory rumours that it feared could incite communal clashes.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting with investigations.

READ: ‘Shattered’: Sri Lankan cricketer recounts church bombing horror

A priest speaks with security personnel near St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo

A priest speaks with security personnel near St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo. (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte)



Source

Asia News

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