Sri Lanka to air Sunday mass on TV as attack threat persists

2019-05-05 07:32

Sri Lanka's Catholic Church will televise a private Sunday mass after cancelling regular services over fears of a repeat of Easter's suicide bombings, even as police and troops tightened security.

Father Edmund Tillakaratne said public masses were suspended for a second week amid fears of a repeat jihadi strike, but a service conducted by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith will be broadcast on national television.

Police, meanwhile, said they were stepping up search operations over the weekend ahead of a planned re-opening of over 10 000 public schools after an extended Easter vacation.

Some 257 people were killed in a string of suicide bombings against three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21.

"We will not allow any parking near public schools from Sunday afternoon," police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said. "Search operations will be intensified as part of tighter security."

Police and troops across the country had recovered small quantities of explosives, guns, swords, daggers and kris knives, Gunasekera said.

"We will grant a two-day amnesty for people to surrender such weapons," he added.

Despite the tight security, Catholic churches will remain shut on Sunday, a spokesperson said, adding that a private mass will be telecast live from the residence of the Archbishop.

"It will be like last Sunday when we had a service at Archbishop's chapel and telecast it live," spokesperson Edmond Tillakaratne told AFP.

Ranjith, also archbishop of Colombo, said on Thursday a "reliable foreign source" had alerted him to possible attacks this weekend, leading him to cancel on Sunday services for a second week.

"The information we have from a reliable foreign source is that attackers are planning to hit a very famous church and a Catholic institution," the Cardinal said in a statement.

Basilica secured

Official sources said the Thewatte National Basilica, just outside Colombo, was the suspected target, and the military deployed hundreds of troops to search the area.

"There were no explosives found, but we have stepped up security in the neighbourhood," a police official said.

Although the 10 194 public schools re-open on Monday, a few Catholic schools will remain shut "until further notice".

Sri Lankan authorities had advance warnings from Indian intelligence of the impending Easter attacks, but police and security forces failed to act.

There were at least 42 foreigners among the 257 killed, while some 480 were also wounded. About 50 children were among the dead.

Armed guards have been stationed outside hotels, churches, Buddhist temples and mosques across the country since the attacks.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Friday that some of the conspirators may still be at large.

"Most of those responsible for the Easter attacks have been arrested. Some have been killed," Wickremesinghe said during a tour of island's east, where a Christian church was hit.

"We are trying to see if there are any more secret IS cells in the country," he said. "We will ensure that IS terrorism will be eradicated from our land."

Sri Lanka bolstered security on Friday with fears of attacks against several bridges and flyovers in Colombo as well as police stations.

The attacks were blamed on the local National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) whose leader was among the suicide bombers. The group had pledged an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State group.

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