Sri Lanka churches fall silent amid fears of further bombings

Sri Lanka churches fall silent amid fears of further bombings
By Alastair Jamieson with Reuters
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Churches across Sri Lanka suspended Sunday mass as fears of more attacks remained a week after suicide bombers killed over 250 people.


Churches across Sri Lanka suspended Sunday mass and the Archbishop of Colombo delivered a televised sermon from his home, as fears of more attacks remained a week after suicide bombers killed over 250 in churches and hotels.

Sri Lanka has been on high alert since the attacks on Easter Sunday, with nearly 10,000 soldiers deployed across the island to carry out searches and hunt down members of two local Islamist groups believed to have carried out the attack.

The government has said the attacks were carried out by nine well-educated Sri Lankans, eight of whom have been identified. Authorities have detained more than 100 people since the bombings in three churches and four hotels, most of which were in the capital.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, held a solemn special mass from a church adjacent to his house that was broadcast live across local television and radio.

"We cannot kill someone in the name of god... It is a great tragedy that happened," he said in his sermon. "We extend our hand of friendship and fraternity to all our brothers and sisters of whatever class, society or religion that differentiates us."

Afterwards, the archbishop and the political leaders lit candles to commemorate the victims.

Warning of further attacks

Most were Sri Lankans but the dead also included 40 foreigners, including British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

Sri Lanka's 22 million population is majority Buddhist and includes minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island's conflict and communal tensions.

The archbishop said earlier this week that he had seen an internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and said there would be no Catholic masses celebrated anywhere on the island on Sunday.

Authorities have so far focused their investigations on international links to two domestic groups they believe carried out the attacks, NTJ and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.

But the so-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombings, without providing any evidence, and on Saturday it issued a new claim for a gunbattle that erupted on the east coast on Friday during a raid by security forces on a safehouse.

Sri Lanka's president said on Friday some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with IS since 2013 and that there were links between IS and drug trafficking.

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