COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan police announced Wednesday that they had arrested another 18 people for their attacks on churches and hotels claimed by the Islamic State Group, bringing the death toll back to 359 rose.
] People are attending a mass burial ceremony in Negombo, three days after a series of suicide attacks on churches and luxury hotels around the island, on April 24, 2019 in Sri Lanka. REUTERS / Thomas Peter
The Islamic extremist state The group filed a lawsuit after the Sri Lankan authorities said suicide bombings in Sri Lanka were retaliation for attacking two mosques in New Zealand, which killed 50 people in March.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the death toll had risen from 321 overnight to 359, injuring some 500 people, but said no casualties had been reported from the three churches and four hotels affected by the bomber bombing.
The Islamic State stated through its AMAQ news agency that the attacks in Sri Lanka were carried out by seven assailants, but did not provide any evidence to support its claim to responsibility. If so, this would be one of the group's worst attacks outside of Iraq and Syria.
Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament on Tuesday that two Sri Lankan Islamist groups – National Thawheed Jama'at and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim – were responsible for the blasts that were served during the Easter service and in hotels.
Overnight police searched for homes across the Indian Ocean, leading to the arrest of 18 others. This raises the number of respondents to almost 60, including a Syrian.
The night raids included areas near the gothic St. Sebastian church in Negombo, north of the capital, where numerous people were killed on Sunday, a police spokesman said. In the west of Sri Lanka, the scene of Muslim riots, an indefinite number of people were arrested in 2014.
"Searching takes place everywhere, there is strict control of the Muslim territories," said a security source.
The bombings on Easter Sunday destroyed the relative calm that existed in the Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka since a civil war against predominantly Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists ten years ago, and sparked fears of a return to sectarian violence.
The 22 million people in Sri Lanka are Christians, Muslims and Hindus. So far, Christians have largely succeeded in avoiding the island's worst conflicts and tensions.
The attacks have already anticipated a revolution of the Sri Lankan security forces. President Maithripala Sirisena said on Tuesday night that he plans to change some of his defense chiefs after criticizing intelligence warnings for an easterly attack.
Three sources told Reuters that intelligence officials in Sri Lanka had been warned hours before the Indian bombing that Islamist attacks threatened. It was not clear what measures were taken.
Most of those killed and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were also killed. These included British, American, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.
According to the US Children's Fund, 45 children were among the dead.
Defense Minister Wijewardene said investigators believed revenge for the March 15 attacks on the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, had been motivated but not elaborated. The attacks during the Friday prayers in Christchurch were carried out by a single armed man.
The Sri Lankan government has imposed an emergency law and a curfew. It has also blocked online messaging services to cause the spread of inflammatory rumors that could be feared to cause municipal clashes.
The US Bureau of Investigation helps with investigations.
Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Paul Tait