Masses canceled amid fears of more suicide bombings | News Coverage from USA

Masses canceled amid fears of more suicide bombings

Despite the arrest of dozens of suspects in Sri Lanka’s Easter massacre, including the wealthy father of two suicide bombers, the island nation of 22 million remained fearful Thursday over the possibility of new attacks during weekend worship services.

The bombers attacked three churches and three hotels in carefully coordinated assaults, killing more than 350 people.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo warned that Sri Lankan authorities were reporting that additional attacks may occur targeting places of worship through Sunday. The embassy urged people “to remain vigilant and avoid large crowds.”  

The Rev. Niroshan Perera, a priest overseeing funerals of people killed in the Negombo blast at St. Sebastian’s church, said Catholic churches in the city, known as “Little Rome” for its many religious buildings, were all closed and had canceled Mass upon the advice of government security officials.

Perera said an official had warned him that police were still searching for two armed suspects. “Little bit, we are nervous,” he said.

In Colombo, the capital, John Keells Holdings, the parent company of the Cinnamon Grand hotel, one of the sites targeted in the Easter Sunday bombings, told employees at its various hotel properties to stay inside “further to the communications we have received” in an email shared with the AP.

Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim, a wealthy spice trader in Sri Lanka and the father of two suspected Easter suicide bombers, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of helping his sons in the attacks.

Former navy chief Jayanath Colombage, now a counterterrorism expert, confirmed the arrest to The Associated Press.

Ibrahim lives in a mansion in Dematagoda, a wealthy Colombo neighborhood. Investigators said suspects detonated a ninth bomb on Sunday that killed three police officers who were pursuing them. A white BMW was parked outside a garage partially blown out in the blast.

Officials say many of the bombing suspects were highly educated and came from well-off families in the neighborhood.

In one house, Buhari Mohammed Anwar, 77, a retired primary school teacher, said his neighbor, a suspect, was a nice person who helped the poor, the Associated Press reported.

Of the suspected suicide bombers, he said, “Their father … didn’t expect this. Their father advises them every day. But they don’t listen. Children became like that, they don’t listen.”

Meanwhile, a senior Sri Lankan government spokesman, Sudarshana Gunawardana, told CNN that one of the bombers, Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim, had earlier been arrested and released.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena had demanded the resignation of the defense secretary and national police chief resign after security forces failed to heed warnings of threats against churches 

Sri Lankan authorities say they believe a little-known local militant Islamist group known as National Thowheed Jamath was to blame.

The Islamic State group has also claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement, via Amaq, the self-styled ISIS news outlet, the militants said “members of the U.S.-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka” had been targeted.

Sri Lanka, located in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of India, is largely Buddhist, but has minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus among its population of 22 million.

Sri Lanka has been largely peaceful for the past 10 years following the end of a civil war against Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists.

President Maithripala Sirisena was due to meet representatives of different faiths on Thursday to address concerns of a sectarian backlash.

Contributing: Associated Press

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