May 2, 2019 11:01 am

Sri Lankan catholic services cancelled for 2nd week amid fears of violence

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Catholic services are being cancelled for a second weekend in Sri Lanka‘s capital after the government warned of more possible attacks by the same Islamic State-linked group that carried out Easter suicide bombings that killed 257 people.

Rev. Edmund Tillakaratne, spokesman for the Colombo diocese, said Thursday that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had cancelled all Sunday services in the diocese based on the latest security reports.

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Last week, Muslims were told to stay home for Friday prayers and all of Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches were closed. Instead of the usual Sunday Mass, Ranjith delivered a homily before clergy and national leaders at his residence that was broadcast on television.

Sri Lanka’s Muslim leaders, however, were encouraging believers to return to mosques for Friday prayers, according to N.M. Ameen, president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka.

Ameen said the group had asked the government for extra security.

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Officials have warned that suspects linked to the bombings are still at large.

Ranjith has criticized the government’s apparent failure to share near-specific intelligence on the Easter plot and on some of the suspects involved.

A Cabinet minister said Tuesday that intelligence warnings had indicated government ministers could be targeted by the same group, which pledged its loyalty to Islamic State militants.

The death toll from the April 21 bombings at churches and luxury hotels has risen to 257 people from 253 last week, Health Ministry chief Dr. Anil Jasinghe said Thursday. He said 47 people are still being treated in hospitals, including 12 in intensive care.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi postponed a trip this week to Sri Lanka because of security concerns, a senior foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.

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The U.S. Embassy in Colombo remained closed to the public through Friday.

Sri Lankan police late Wednesday released the names and photographs of nine alleged suicide bombers who carried out the Easter attacks, all belonging to an offshoot of a local group called National Towheed Jamaat. They included extremist preacher Mohamed Zahran, also known as Zahran Hashim, who was described as the attack leader, and the wife of another suicide bomber, who blew herself up, along with her children and three police officers, at a villa belonging to her father-in-law, who is a prominent spice trader.

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With the atmosphere still tense in Colombo, Sri Lankan Islamic group Ceylon Thawheed Jama’ath held a news conference Thursday to clarify that it was not connected to National Towheed Jamaat, despite having a similar name.

The group’s general secretary, Abdur Razik, said there are many groups with names that include the words “Thawheed Jama’ath,” which roughly translates as monotheism organization. Razik’s group is among several that have organized news conferences to clear their names after being confused in news reports with the group accused of carrying out the bombings.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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