Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Sri Lanka Catholics to resume public mass two weeks after attacks

The ceremonies will take place under high levels of security

A Sri Lankan soldier stands guard outside the residence of Catholic Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, in Colombo on April 30, 2019. AFP
A Sri Lankan soldier stands guard outside the residence of Catholic Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, in Colombo on April 30, 2019. AFP

Sri Lanka’s Catholic services including public masses will resume on Sunday but under high-level security after the wave of suicide bombings that killed at least 253 people at three churches and three luxury hotels across the country on Easter Sunday.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said the Church was closely monitoring investigations into the April 21 suicide attacks and wanted to be sure of the security situation before returning to daily services.

"On the 5th of May we are going to begin [Sunday] masses," he said on Tuesday.

"But we will start with a smaller number of masses and see if we can slowly increase it depending on how the situation develops."

The cardinal, who is also Archbishop of Colombo, conducted a private memorial mass that was broadcast live on television last Sunday after cancelling all public services amid fears of a repeat of the attacks.

Armed guards and an armoured personnel carrier have been placed outside his Colombo residence as part of his security arrangements.

But he said he has returned a bulletproof limousine provided by the government and instead travelled in an ordinary car.

"I am not afraid. I don't need bulletproof vehicles to go about. The Lord is my protector," he said.

"But I want security for my people, and for the country."

The US ambassador to Sri Lanka said that some of the radical Islamist militants behind the Easter Sunday bombings were likely to be still at large and could be planning more attacks.

Sri Lankan security forces also said they were maintaining a high level of alert amid intelligence reports that the militants were likely to strike before the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which is due to begin next Monday.

"Tremendous progress has been made towards apprehending those plotters but I don't think the story is over yet," said Ambassador Alaina Teplitz.

The attack was allegedly carried out by a cell of nine Sri Lankans inspired by ISIS, detonating in three cities across the country. The mastermind is known as Zaharan Hashim. He appeared in a video released by ISIS after the attacks, showing him leading others in pledging allegiance to the group’s chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

One of his alleged followers appeared in an Indian court on Tuesday after admitting he wanted to attack the country that neighbours Sri Lanka.

India has been concerned about Islamist extremists on its soil for some time and the Sri Lanka bombings left authorities alarmed that India might be at risk of an extremist attack.

An Indian, identified as Riyas A, alias Riyas Aboobacker, 29, was arrested on Monday by India's National Investigation Agency, which handles counter-terrorism cases.

During interrogation, he "disclosed that he has been following speeches/videos of Mohammed Zaharan of Sri Lanka for more than a year", an NIA statement said.

"He admitted that he wanted to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala," a southern Indian state, it added.

Updated: May 1, 2019 02:46 PM