Sri Lanka Bans Face Veils
By VOA News April 29, 2019
Sri Lanka, still reeling from the impact of the deadly Easter Sunday explosions, has banned women from wearing face veils.
President Maithripala Sirisena implemented the ban on Monday under an emergency law, roughly a week after explosions targeting churches and hotels on Easter Sunday left over 250 people dead.
Officials said the move will help security forces with the identification process as the country continues to search for people responsible for the explosions.
Reuters reports that the top body of Islamic scholars supports the measure on a short-term basis because of security concerns, but opposes legislation against burqas.
The U.S. said it has followed the developments in Sri Lanka and has encouraged the government to use the emergency law only in the scope of the specific Easter attack.
"Respecting the rights of communities is something that can coexist in a democratic society with efforts to combat global terrorism," Alaina Teplitz, U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, told VOA.
"Sri Lankans can make very good choices about how to approach that and the president's indication that these emergency powers would only be used to focus on the perpetrators of this terrible crime I think is an important acknowledgement of that," she added.
In another development, Sri Lankan local media report that police have identified the woman and the girl who were pulled Saturday from rubble of a shootout between security forces and militants that killed fifteen people, including six children.
Officials say the pair are the wife and daughter of Zahran Hashim, the suspected mastermind behind the deadly Easter Sunday attacks.
A day after Colombo declared National Towheed Jamaath (NTJ) a terror group, armed police in the town of Kattankudy in eastern Sri Lanka entered the organization's main mosque.
On Saturday, President Sirisena formally outlawed two Islamist extremist groups suspected of carrying out the Easter attacks. Sirisena used his emergency powers to ban NTJ and another group, Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI).
Security officials said the NTJ was believed to have been the main group behind the Easter attacks. Officials said they were prohibited by law from banning the little known groups earlier due to the lack of firm evidence against them.
Catholic churches in Sri Lanka were shuttered Sunday in the aftermath of the attack. The faithful, however, were able to watch a televised broadcast of a Mass.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday explosions.
An IS statement said that "after exhausting their ammunition," the men "detonated on them their explosive belts."
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said officers found a cache of 150 gelignite sticks, an Islamic State uniform, steel pellets, a drone, a laptop computer, as well as a van thought to be used during the Easter attacks.
Sri Lanka's police chief Pujith Jayasundara resigned Friday because of the security failures around the attacks.
As the government faces an outpouring of public anger over the failure to heed the warnings, senior officials admit it has been a "major lapse."
Reports say Indian intelligence agencies sent out several warnings to Sri Lanka, and that Indian security agencies had gathered details about the Islamic militant group suspected of carrying out the attacks.
VOA's Ira Mellman contributed to this report.
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