SRI Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Thursday that authorities were targeting the “sleepers” who could trigger another round of bombings as police released photos of six suspects, including three women, wanted for their involvement in the attacks and sought information regarding them from the public. Meanwhile, Health Ministry on Thursday night revised the death toll down to 253, from 359, saying the previous figure was due to a calculation error. Authorities earlier said that nine bombers, believed to be members of local Islamist extremist group called National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), carried out the blasts that killed 359 people and wounded more than 500 others. However, Dr Anil Jasinghe, the Director General of the Health Services, said the larger death toll was released as a result of a calculation error.
“The approximate total of the dead would be 253 and not 359 as reported in media,” he said in a statement. Facing public criticism for not acting against Islamist extremist groups in the island nation, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said some of the suspected attackers responsible for the Easter bombings were being monitored by the country’s intelligence services. But authorities did not have “sufficient” evidence to place the suspected attackers in custody prior to the attacks, he said. Top officials have acknowledged that Sri Lanka received Intelligence about possible terror strikes ahead of the attacks, but both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have said that they did not receive the information. Wickremesinghe told CNN that he did not rule out the possibility of more attacks in the country. He said authorities were now focussing on “sleepers” - terrorists who could activate another round of attacks. “Police and security forces are rounding up those involved, but they’re also rounding up the sleepers, those used on second and third rounds (of attacks),” he said.
“The danger has come down drastically, (but) we do have to pick up some more sleepers, which we will do in the next few days.” He said security services were acting out of an abundance of caution, and that should even one militant slip through the net, the damage could be widespread. “It is a precaution that we are taking, we want to be sure we have everyone in,” Wickremesinghe said. “They are worried that one or two could get into a church -- (even) one person can do a lot of damage.” The Lankan authorities have intensified their search operations with the help of the Army and arrested 16 more suspects. Officials said that with the fresh arrests, the total number of suspects under their custody has risen to 76. President Sirisena has said that 139 people have been identified as suspects in connection with the attacks. Addressing an all-party conference, Sirisena said that a Combine Operation Centre will be established within the Defence Ministry for the enforcement of the country’s security measures from Friday. 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. Meanwhile, security has been beefed up around “a certain category of mosques” after Intelligence warning that the Islamist extremist group blamed for the Easter blasts was planning an attack on them during Friday prayers. A letter, signed by DIG Priyantha Jayakody on behalf of Inspector General of Police Jayasundara, warned that the group which had carried out the Easter blasts was planning an attack on mosques on Friday, the Times Online reported. The letter dated April 24, 2018 said a certain category of mosques identified as ‘Awliya Mosques’ could be possible target for these attacks. “Security has been tightened in the vicinity of all mosques owing to these possible attacks.
Therefore, the public need not worry,” Jayakodi said. The letter was addressed to the Presidential Security Division, the Special Security Division, and the Prime Minister’s Security Division urging that the matter be brought to the immediate attention of the relevant authorities. Chairman of the Dewatagaha Mosque in Colombo said that the State Intelligence Service has informed him of a possible threat by the group, which was involved in the Sunday’s carnage. Lanka suspends visas on arrival to citizens of 39 nations: Sri Lanka on Thursday suspended its plans to grant visas on arrival to citizens of 39 countries after the devastating Easter suicide bombings that killed nearly 359 people. “Although arrangements were in place to issue visas on arrival for citizens of 39 countries, we have now decided to hold it for the time being in consideration of the current security situation,” Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said in a statement. “Investigations have revealed foreign links to the attacks and we don’t want this facility to be abused,” Amaratunga added. The visas on arrival pilot programme was part of a larger initiative to increase tourist arrivals to the country during the six month off-season period from May to October.
Father of 2 Lankan suicide bombers arrested
A SRI Lankan spice tycoon, the father of two of the suspected Easter suicide bombers, was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of aiding and abetting his sons carry out the deadly terror attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels. Spice merchant Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim’s two sons - identified as Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim and Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim - allegedly detonated their explosives at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels on Sunday.
Lanka blast suspect had links with IS module in India
ZAHRAN Hashim, a radical Tamil-speaking cleric who is believed to have masterminded the Sri Lanka blasts was in “direct and regular” touch with some Islamic State sympathizers in Southern India for over three years and was instrumental in forming a “pro-IS module”, sources said. An official of a counter-terror agency told IANS that Hashim had developed relations with IS sympathizers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu through illegal trade and social media sites like Youtube and Facebook. The official said some of the Islamic State sympathizers are in National Investigation Agency (NIA) custody and many of them have been named in its chargesheet filed on February 26. Most of them have visited Sri Lanka before having allegiance to Islamic State. They belong to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Arrested IS sympathizers include Mohammed Ashiq, Ismail, Samsudeen, Jafar Sadik Ali and Shahul Hameed. Some of them were in touch with Hashim while others were in contact with men in Hashim’s network of operatives trying to establish a pro-IS module in Southern India. All of them are in judicial custody on charges of hatching conspiracy to target Hindu leaders at Coimbatore with intention to furthering the objectives of the Islamic State. They belong to different areas in Tamil Nadu. Hashim, another Intelligence official said, was also instrumental in radicalising youths in Sri Lanka in the garb of conducting Quran classes and was known there as a “Molvi” (cleric). The Central Intelligence Agencies in India, however, are not sure if Hashim died in the Sri Lankan attack before which he was a virtual unknown in the island state. It is believed that he went to an Islamic college in Sri Lanka.