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24 April, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 24 April, 2019 01:30:19 AM
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Sri Lanka massacre

Attacks ‘retaliation for Christchurch’: SL govt

Sri Lankan priests and relatives bless the coffins of bomb blast victims after a funeral service at St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo yesterday, two days after a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. AFP Photo
AFP, Colombo
Attacks ‘retaliation for Christchurch’: SL govt
Sri Lankan priests and relatives bless the coffins of bomb blast victims after a funeral service at St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo yesterday, two days after a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. AFP Photo

Islamist suicide bombings that killed more than 300 people in Sri Lanka at the weekend were carried out in revenge for last month's attacks on two mosques in New Zealand, the Lankan government said Tuesday, citing an initial police probe. The revelation came as the death toll in the Easter Sunday bomb attacks on churches and high-end hotels rose to 321, with hundreds more wounded and still in hospital.

"The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lankawas in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch," state minister of defence Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament. Fifty people were shot dead on March 15 at two mosques in the New Zealand city by an avowed white nationalist.

Wijewardene said the group behind the

Sri Lanka bombings was the little-known National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), an extremist Islamist group previously blamed for defacing Buddhist statues. Police have detained at least 40 people as they investigate the worst act of violence in the country since a civil war ended a decade ago.

On Tuesday, grieving Sri Lankans began to bury their dead and the country was observing a day of national mourning. Three minutes of silence were marked nationwide from 8:30am, the time the first suicide bomber struck on Sunday, unleashing carnage at three hotels and three churches packed with Easter worshippers.

Flags were lowered to half mast on government buildings, and liquor shops were ordered closed for the day. Hours earlier, the government imposed a state of emergency giving police and the military special powers including the ability to arrest suspects without a court order. Meanwhile, the Islamic State group

yesterday claimed responsibility for the bombings, after the government blamed local Islamists for the blasts. “Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday (Sunday) are Islamic State group fighters,” said a statement released by IS propaganda agency Amaq.

Sunday’s bombings targeting churches and high-end hotels are among the deadliest such attacks worldwide since the 2001 strikes on the United States. More than a thousand people yesterday gathered at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital, which was among those hit in the blasts, to pay tribute to the dead.

An elderly man wept uncontrollably by the coffin bearing the body of his wife, while relatives of other victims stood aghast and silent.

Coffins were carried into the church grounds one-by-one for services, and then to a newly established cemetery on church land.

“It’s beyond words,” said Father Suranga Warnakulasuriya, who had come from another parish to help conduct funerals.

“It’s very hard to bear. For me it is very difficult, so imagine how hard it is for the loved ones.” The attacks were the worst ever against the country’s small Christian minority, who make up just seven percent of the 21 million population. Investigators are now hunting for clues on whether NTJ had international support, with government officials saying the attack seemed too well-coordinated for the small group to have carried out alone.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s office said there was intelligence that “international terror groups” were behind the local perpetrators and that he would seek foreign help to investigate.

Officials are investigating why more precautions were not taken after an April 11 warning from Sri Lanka’s police that a “foreign intelligence agency” had reported the NTJ planned suicide attacks on churches. Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the warning was not passed on to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or other top ministers.

Tensions remained high and security heavy after a bomb discovered by police on Monday near one of the targeted churches blew up before police could defuse it. Although there was a powerful blast, no injuries were reported.

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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