Sri Lanka bombings: All the latest updates

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Here’s the latest on Sri Lanka since suicide bombers attacked churches and hotels on Easter, killing more than 250.

A series of coordinated bombings on Easter Sunday rocked Sri Lanka, killing at least 253 people (death toll revised down from 359 by authorities) and wounding 500 others.  The attacks were the deadliest in the island nation since the end of its civil war 10 years ago, and targeted three churches as well as four hotels in the capital Colombo. Nearly all victims were Sri Lankan, many of them Christian worshippers attending Easter Mass. Dozens of foreigners were also killed. Authorities said the attacks were carried out by two little-known Muslim organisations.

Here are the latest updates:

Saturday, April 27:

Sri Lanka bans two groups linked to Easter bombings

President Sirisena has banned the two groups linked to the Easter bombings – the National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI) – under emergency powers that came into effect on Tuesday. Dharmasri Ekanayake, spokesman for the president, said the move allows the government to confiscate any property belonging to the two organizations.

Relatives of suicide bombings mastermind wounded in gun battle

The wife and a daughter of the suspected mastermind behind the suicide attacks on churches and four hotels in Sri Lanka were wounded in a gun battle in the east of the country, according to the police and his sister. The shootout at a safe house erupted on Friday in Sainthamaruthu in the Ampara district as police hunted for people linked to Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, who has been named as the ringleader of the Easter Sunday bombings. “I was asked to come to identify them but I am not sure I can go,” Mohamed Hashim Mathaniya, sister of Zahran, told Reuters from the town of Kattankudy in the east.

Indian police uncovered a plot, but Sri Lanka didn’t act

While monitoring the usual channels, Indian police stumbled upon a detailed plot for the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, the Associated Press news agency reported. Police managed to break into National Towheed Jamaat’s communications and began tapping into the plot, according to Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. “That is why the kind of detailing of the incident they received was very, very specific,” Sahni said. “They knew the group, they knew the targets, they knew the time, they knew the whereabouts of the suicide bombers, and all of this was communicated to the Sri Lankan government.” Top Sri Lankan officials have acknowledged that some of the island nation’s intelligence units were given advance notice about the attacks and that little was done to prevent them.

Pakistan’s under-19 cricket team’s visit postponed

Sri Lanka has postponed a tour of Pakistan’s under-19 team following the Easter Sunday bombings, a source at the national cricket board told Reuters news agency. The Pakistan under-19 side, captained by Rohail Nazir, was scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka on April 30 to play two four-day matches, followed by three one-dayers.

Police chief ‘refusing to quit’ despite president’s request

Pujith Jayasundara, Sri Lanka’s police chief, has refused a request by President Sirisena to step down over the failure to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks, two sources at the president’s office told Reuters. Sirisena blamed Jayasundara and Hemasiri Fernando, the defence secretary, for not sharing advance warnings of the attacks with him.  Fernando resigned earlier in the week, but Jayasundara was holding on, the two officials told Reuters news agency. Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, only parliament can remove the police chief.

Girl, woman survive bloody Sri Lanka raid

A girl and a woman survived a fiery explosion at a suspected safe house in eastern Sri Lanka that killed 15 people during a raid linked to the Easter bombings. Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara said the woman and girl are critically injured and are being treated at a nearby hospital in Ampara District. Security forces have been clearing the safe house following an overnight gunbattle between soldiers and suspects. Authorities say the suspects set off three explosions and opened fire.

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Fifteen dead in overnight raid on suspects hideout

Fifteen people, including six children, have died during a Sri Lankan security forces operation as three suicide bombers blow themselves up and others were shot dead, police said. The three men set off explosives, also killing three women and six children inside what was believed to a safe house near the eastern town of Kalmunai on Friday night. “Three other men, also believed to be suicide bombers, were found dead outside the house,” police said in a statement, adding that they had been shot

Friday, April 26:

Soldiers in gun battle with Easter bombings suspects

Soldiers were engaged in a gun battle with suspects after attempting to raid a building in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province as part of an ongoing investigation into the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks, a military spokesman said. The clashes took place in the coastal town of Sammanthurai, 325km from Colombo, according to Brigadier Sumith Atapattu. Police found suicide vests, detonators, metal balls and an ISIL banner, according to Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez.

Journalists allowed in to bombed Colombo church

Catholic priests allowed journalists inside St Anthony’s Church in the capital for the first time since it was targeted on Easter Sunday.  Broken glass littered the sanctuary’s damaged pews and blood still stained the floor. Shoes left by panicked worshippers remained in the darkened church, and broken bottles of holy water and flowers were strewn on the floor.

Catholic churches cancel all Sunday Masses

The archbishop of Colombo said there will be no Sunday Masses until further notice after the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. Speaking at a news conference in the capital, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith appealed for financial support to rebuild the lives of the affected people and reconstruct the churches targeted in the bombings. “I assured the Muslim community not to have any fears after the attacks,” he said, adding that all four major religions in Sri Lanka have “a very good relationship”.

Sri Lanka fears $1.5bn tourism losses

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka could drop by up to 30 percent in the wake of Easter Sunday bombings, with losses of $1.5bn this year. “Tourism will be the worst affected,” Samaraweera told reporters. “We expect a 30 percent drop in arrivals and that means a loss of about $1.5 billion in foreign exchange.” Samaraweera said the country could take up to two years to fully recover the attacks

‘Every household in the country will be checked’

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has revealed his short and long-term measures to bring back normalcy to the island nation coming to terms with the Easter bombings. “Every household in the country will be checked. The lists of permanent residents of every house will be established to ensure no unknown person could live anywhere,” he said, pointing out that during the fight against LTTE, similar methods were adopted.

Sirisena acknowledged “a serious lapse” on the part of the country’s defence secretary and top police official, who failed to inform him about an April 4 letter from a “friendly foreign country” warning about a possible attack.

Guarded by soldiers, Sri Lanka’s Muslims pray for peace

As soldiers armed with assault rifles guarded Colombo’s golden-domed Kollupitiya Jummah Masjid, hundreds of Muslims defied government calls to stay at home and attended a service they said was focused on a call for people of all religions to help return peace to Sri Lanka. “We work with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus. It has been a threat for all of us because of what these few people have done to this beautiful country,” said 28-year-old sales worker Raees Ulhaq. “Every day since this carnage happened, me, my family, and all, we are praying to God, please bring us peace,” Abdul Waheed Mohamed, a 43-year-old engineer, said after leaving the Friday prayers.

Thursday, April 25:

Death toll revised down to 253

Sri Lanka’s health ministry has revised the death toll from Sunday’s bombings down from 359 to 253 saying some of the “badly mutilated bodies” had been double-counted. In a statement, the ministry said once all autopsies were completed and cross-referenced with DNA samples, an earlier toll released by the police was reduced by 106. The ministry did not break down the new tally in terms of locals and foreigners.

UK warns against ‘all but essential’ travel to Sri Lanka

The British foreign office has advised UK citizens against “all but essential” travel to Sri Lanka, warning “terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks” in the country.” Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners,” the updated travel advice said. “Following the horrific attacks on Easter Sunday, and the ongoing Sri Lankan security operation, I have … decided to update the travel advice to British nationals to Sri Lanka to advise against all but essential travel,” said Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary.

Father of suspected Easter suicide bombers arrested

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told The Associated Press news agency that the father of two of Sunday’s alleged suicide bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons in carrying out the attacks. Wickremesinghe said the father is a “leading businessman” and “active in politics”. He also warned that some people believed by authorities to be linked with the attacks were still at large and may possess explosives, despite police having already detained “a lot of suspects”.

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Defence secretary steps down

Hemasiri Fernando, Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, has resigned following the security forces’ failure to stop the deadly church and hotel attacks on Easter Sunday.  He said that while there had been no failure on his own part, he was taking responsibility for failures of some institutions he headed as the secretary of defence. “I decided to resign on my own volition,” he told Sri Lankan channel News First. “Until a suitable person is found, I will continue to help. I don’t think there were failures at the defence ministry. But some agencies under the ministry’s purview appear to have failed in coordination.” The office of Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena confirmed Fernando would serve in the post until a replacement is appointed.

Muslim refugees in Negombo attacked

Sri Lanka’s prime minister told The Associated Press news agency that minority Ahmadi Muslims who are refugees from Pakistan have faced attacks since the Easter bombings. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said security forces were trying to help the Ahmadis but “a few have been attacked” due to some people becoming “suspicious of foreigners, not of Muslims per se … in the heat of the moment”. About 500 Ahmadis have fled their homes in Negombo and are living some 30 kilometres away under police protection. Others are living under police and military protection at the Ahmadi mosque in Negombo. AlJazeera

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