Colombo: The UK and Australia have advised their citizens not to travel to Sri Lanka unless their journey is essential as terrorists were ‘likely’ to carry out further attacks in the country, following the deadly Easter Sunday bombings that killed 253 people and injured over 500.
According to advisories, future attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, the The UK Foreign Office (FCO) updated its guidance, urging British citizens in the country to avoid large gatherings.
But on Thursday it went further, warning about the potential for more attacks. “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka, due to the current evolving security situation following attacks on April 21 2019,” it said.
“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Sri Lanka. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.”
Foreign Office officials told those at the briefing that the change to travel advice was not due to fresh intelligence but instead a necessary precaution.
The situation still remains volatile in Sri Lanka after nine suicide bombers, believed to be members of a local Islamist extremist group called National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), carried out the blasts that killed 253 people and wounded more than 500 others. The death toll from the Islamist attack on Easter Sunday was revised downwards on Thursday from 359 to 253 people killed.
An Islamic extremist believed to have played a key role in Sri Lanka’s deadly Easter bombings led an attack against a Colombo hotel, the country’s President confirmed today.
“What intelligence agencies have told me is that Zahran was killed during the Shangri-La attack,” Maithripala Sirisena told reporters, referring to Zahran Hashim, leader of a local extremist group.
He added that Hashim led the attack against the high-end hotel and was accompanied by a second bomber, identified only as “Ilham”. He said the information came from military intelligence and was based in part on CCTV footage recovered from the scene.
Hashim appeared in a video released by the Islamic State group after they claimed the bombings, but his whereabouts after the blasts were not immediately clear.
More than 250 people were killed in the attacks against three churches and three hotels. A fourth planned attack on a hotel failed. Security forces had been on a desperate hunt for Hashim, believed to be around 40, after the government named the group he led – the National Thowheeth Jama’ath – as its prime suspect.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the government knew that Sri Lankan nationals who joined the Islamic State had returned, but they could not be arrested as joining a foreign terrorist organisation is not against the law in the island nation.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Easter terror attacks on three Catholic churches and three luxury hotels that claimed 253 lives but the government has blamed a local Islamist extremist group National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) for the bombings.
“We knew they went to Syria…But in our country, to go abroad and return or to take part in a foreign armed uprising is not an offence here,” Wickremesinghe told Sky News.
“We have no laws which enable us to take into custody people who join foreign terrorist groups. We can take those who are, who belong to terrorist groups operating in Sri Lanka,” he was quoted as saying.
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 cop quits|
|Sri Lanka’s top police official, Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, has resigned over failures that led to the deadly Easter bomb attacks, the country’s President said today.
“The IGP has resigned. He has sent his resignation to the acting defence secretary. I’ll nominate a new IGP soon,” Maithripala Sirisena told reporters.
Sirisena’s nominee has to be confirmed by a constitutional council.
The resignation comes after the country’s top defence ministry official, defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday.