Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

Sri Lanka president asks for resignation of police head and defence secretary after Easter bombing

One of the nine suspected attackers was a woman, Sri Lanka's Deputy Defence Minister says as death toll rises to more than 350

A woman who lost her husband and two children during the bombing at St Sebastian's Church yells towards their graves during a mass burial for victims at a cemetery near the church in Negombo. Reuters
A woman who lost her husband and two children during the bombing at St Sebastian's Church yells towards their graves during a mass burial for victims at a cemetery near the church in Negombo. Reuters

Sri Lanka's president has requested both the country's police chief and defence secretary to resign following Easter Sunday attacks, sources close to Maithripala Sirisena said.

Sri Lanka's government has acknowledged it received warnings of a local extremist group threatening churches and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that some people might lose their job over the intelligence failures.

The news comes after the leader of Parliament Lakshman Kiriella pointed the fighter for intelligence failings ahead of the bombings that killed 359 people at security heads.

"Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully. Information was there, but the top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions," said Mr Kiriella, also minister of public enterprise.

He said information on possible suicide attacks were received from Indian intelligence on April 4 and a Security Council meeting was chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena on April 7, but the information was not shared more widely.

"Somebody is controlling these top intelligence officials," the minister said. "The Security Council is doing politics. We need to investigate into this."

More than 60 people have so far been arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka, Mr Kiriella said.

Also on Wednesday, the United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka said Washington believes that there is an ongoing terrorist plot.

Ambassador Alaina Teplitz said there was a "right-sized" team of FBI agents and US military officials assisting in the investigation, and that the US had no prior knowledge of the plot and issued no warnings. Ms Teplitz said that given the coordination and scale of attacks, the involvement of outside groups such as ISIS needs to be investigated.

Ms Teplitz also said, "clearly there was some failure in the system" in Sri Lanka prior to Easter bombings.

A Sri Lankan police officer announces security warnings urging people to be cautious around abandoned vehicles and parcels, in a street outside a mosque in Colombo. AP
A Sri Lankan police officer announces security warnings urging people to be cautious around abandoned vehicles and parcels, in a street outside a mosque in Colombo. AP

Sri Lanka’s Deputy Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said that one of the nine perpetrators of Sunday’s mass bombing spree had been a woman and that eight of suspected bombers have so far been identified.

Mr Wijewardene said that the wave of bombings in churches and hotels around the country had killed 359 people, 39 of whom were foreign nationals, and some 500 are believed to have been wounded.

Senior officials deliberately withheld intelligence about possible attacks on Sri Lanka, where a rash of suicide bombings on Easter Sunday killed at least 359 people, the leader of Parliament said on Wednesday.

A Sri Lankan woman prays near to St Anthony Church  in Colombo. Getty
A Sri Lankan woman prays near to St Anthony Church  in Colombo. Getty

Saudi Arabia confirmed on Tuesday that two of its citizens were killed in the Easter Sunday bombing in Sri Lanka.

The kingdoms’ embassy in Sri Lanka said that Ahmed Zain Al Jafari and Hany Majid Othman were among dozens of foreigners killed by the terror attacks.

They worked as cabin crew on the Saudi Arabian Airlines, Mr Al Jafari was the cabin manager and Mr Othman was an air steward.

They were in transit and had stayed at one of the three hotels that came under attack.

“The entire management team and all of the team members of Saudi Arabian Airlines are with heavy hearts, filled with deep sorrow, as the airline confirms that two of its cabin members have passed away,” the airline’s director general, Saleh Al Jasser said on Twitter.

After the attack, the government brought in a state of emergency that gives authorities more powers to arrest and detain suspects. It is the first time such powers since the civil war ended in 2009.

Separately, Sarath Fonseka, former army chief and minister of regional development, told parliament he believed the attacks "must have been planned for at least 7-8 years".

Mr Wijewardene said that one of the bombers had studied in the UK and Australia and said the leader of the local Islamist group suspected of carrying out the mass bombings had committed suicide at the Shangri-La hotel in one of the attacks.

Separately on Wednesday, Sri Lankan police carried out a controlled explosion of a suspicious motor scooter parked near the popular Savoy cinema in Colombo. There were no explosives found in the scooter, police said.

Tensions remain high as authorities search for the network behind the attacks on Sunday. On Monday, police bomb units detonated a van outside the site of the SSS Shrine in Colombo on suspicion that it too was rigged with explosives.

In the wake of Sunday's attacks, there has been a mass security deployment to try and prevent further incidents and to reassure the country that the authorities are in control.

Updated: April 24, 2019 03:12 PM

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