Fresh blast in Sri Lanka as new bombs found near church
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Fresh blast in Sri Lanka as new bombs found near church

No injuries reported when van parked outside St. Anthony’s explodes; president gives army wartime powers for manhunt

Security personnel stand guard outside St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 22, 2019, a day after the church was hit in a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)
Security personnel stand guard outside St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 22, 2019, a day after the church was hit in a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

A van parked near the Sri Lankan church that was bombed on Easter Sunday exploded on Monday as police tried to defuse a fresh batch of explosives found inside the abandoned vehicle.

No injuries were reported in the blast some 50 meters from the St Anthony’s Shrine, one of three churches targeted in a string of suicide bombs on Sunday that killed nearly 300 people.

Police went to inspect the van after local residents reported it parked near St. Anthony’s for over a day.

They discovered three bombs that they tried to defuse. Instead, the bombs detonated, sending pedestrians fleeing in panic.

Also on Monday, police found 87 detonators near Colombo’s main bus depot, officials said. They declined to comment on whether they were linked to Sunday’s attacks.

Cabinet minister and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne on Monday said Sri Lankan authorities believed a little known Islamist group, National Thowfeek Jamaath, was behind the series of suicide bombings that killed at least 290 people, including at least 27 foreigners. About 500 others were wounded in the blasts.

Senaratne said 24 people have been arrested and that authorities were hunting for links between the group and foreign backers.

“We don’t see that only a small organization in this country can do all that,” he said. “We are now investigating the international support for them, and their other links, how they produced the suicide bombers here, and how they produced bombs like this.”

Sri Lanka’s president gave the military sweeping wartime powers to arrest and detain suspects starting at midnight. In addition, a government curfew was to begin at 8 p.m.

On Monday, armed security personnel stood guard on street corners in central Colombo that were largely deserted, with most shops closed.

Not much is known about the NTJ, a radical Muslim group that has been linked to the vandalizing of Buddhist statues.

Documents seen by AFP show Sri Lanka’s police chief issued a warning on April 11, saying that a “foreign intelligence agency” had reported NTJ was planning attacks on churches and the Indian high commission.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s office said he would meet with Colombo-based diplomats tomorrow to seek international assistance.

Relatives of a blast victim grieve outside a morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)

“The intelligence sections have reported that there are international terror groups which are behind the local terrorists,” the statement said. “International assistance will be sought to combat them.”

The Easter Sunday violence was the deadliest the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.

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