Sri Lanka on alert for attacks by militants in military uniforms
Iran Press TV
Mon Apr 29, 2019 07:13AM
Sri Lankan security officials have warned that militants behind a series of deadly blasts targeting churches and hotels on Easter Sunday are planning a new wave of such attacks and could disguised in military uniforms.
Reuters cited security sources as saying that five locations are the target of the assaults, which were planned to take place on Sunday and Monday.
"There could be another wave of attacks," the head of ministerial security division (MSD), a unit of the police, said in a letter to lawmakers and other officials, seen by Reuters on Monday. "The relevant information further notes that persons dressed in military uniforms and using a van could be involved in the attacks."
No attack was reported in Sri Lanka on Sunday. Security forces have beefed up security across the country amid worries over imminent attacks later on Monday.
Sri Lankan police on Sunday raided the headquarters of a radical group suspected of being behind a series of bloody bomb attacks on churches and hotels, as the country announced new security measures, including the cancellation of all Sunday masses as well as a ban on face covering, for fear of further such bombings.
On Sunday, the country marked one week since eight bomb attacks hit churches and luxury hotels in the capital, Colombo, and two other cities. At least 253 people were killed and hundreds of others wounded in the bombings, which took place when churches were crowded with worshipers marking Easter Sunday.
Police forced stormed the headquarters of the so-called Nations Thawahid Jaman (NTJ) in the town of Kattankudy, searching the place and detaining a man there, Reuters reported.
The NTJ's founder, Zahran Hashim, is believed to have masterminded the serial blasts. He blew himself up at a hotel in Colombo on the day of the carnage.
Sri Lankan authorities have banned the group under the emergency laws they announced in the aftermath of the attacks.
The authorities suspect that another local group known as Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim has also had a hand in the bloodshed, which was claimed by the Takfiri Daesh terror group.
Daesh released footage of eight men whom it said were the Sri Lanka bombers swearing allegiance to the terror group's ringleader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before the carnage.
'Hashim's relatives killed in Friday police raid'
On Friday, security forces and police engaged in a gun battle with armed men after raiding a house in the town of Sainthamaruthu in eastern Sri Lanka. Fifteen bodies, including six children, were found in the scene of the clashes, the following day.
According to police sources, the father and two brothers of Hashim were also killed in the gun battle.
Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim had appeared in an undated video circulating on social media, calling for all-out war against "non-believers."
In an apparent reference to the men, Daesh said on Sunday that three of its members had clashed with Sri Lankan police for several hours on Friday and later detonated their explosive vests. The group did not name the men.
Police has so far detained more than 100 people, including foreigners in connection with the attacks.
The government has ordered an emergency state, which gives police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.
Face covering banned under emergency law
As part of the emergency law, President Maithripala Sirisena imposed a ban on any Muslim face coverings, which could hide people's identities.
All face coverings would be banned in the country beginning Monday to allow authorities to identify people, he said in a decree.
"The ban is to ensure national security… No one should obscure their faces to make identification difficult," his office said in a statement.
The country has a population of about 22 million people, 70 percent of whom are Buddhist, 13 percent Hindu, 10 percent Muslim, and seven percent Christian, according to the country's 2012 census.
Last week, senior Muslim officials called on Muslim women to remove their face-covering, known as niqab or burqa, for all security checks.
The Muslim community was also urged not to go to mosques for the Friday prayers.
Sunday masses cancelled amid fears of further attacks
On the first Sunday since the attacks, the archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith, also asked churches to suspend Sunday mass due to security fears.
He delivered a televised special sermon from a chapel at his home, attended by the president, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The archbishop described the attacks "an insult to humanity," saying, "We pray that in this country there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division."
Though the churches were empty on Sunday, a large crowd of people gathered for a public service outside the site of one of the deadliest bombings, St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo.
People also lit candles and placed them in a makeshift memorial for the victims of the attacks.
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