COLOMBO – Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena has asked two senior security officials to step down, days after a coordinated string of bombing attacks on churches and luxurious hotels killed nearly 360 people, sources from the country’s presidential office told EFE on Wednesday.
Sirisena has sought resignations from Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara amid a growing outrage over the government’s alleged failure to act on intelligence inputs indicating that Islamist groups were planning to target churches in the Buddhist-majority country, the sources said.
A series of bombings claimed by Islamic State militant group on Easter Sunday hit several Sri Lankan churches and high-end hotels, leaving 359 people, including 39 foreigners, dead and over 500 injured.
The attacks were carried by suicide bombers linked to obscure local extremist groups – National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.
The attacks began with six coordinated bomb blasts at 8:45 am on Sunday at three luxury hotels in Colombo and three churches around the country during Easter services.
A few hours later, a seventh blast rocked a small hotel near the Dehiwala Zoo, about 12 km south of the capital, while an eighth explosion took place at a residential compound in Dematagoda in Colombo.
As details of the attackers started emerging, Junior Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told reporters in Colombo that the investigations into the attacks were ongoing to see if there was any “direct link” to any international terror organization.
Most of the suicide bombers, he said, were educated and came from well-to-do families.
Sharing details of the investigations into the suspected attackers, he said the suicide attackers came “from, maybe, middle and upper-middle class (families).”
“Some of them have studied in various other countries. They hold degrees. Quite well educated people,” he said. “We believe that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK.”
Wijewardene said security forces in the island nation have been kept on alert amid threats of more attacks.
“There may be more attacks. We have to be vigilant at the moment. We will have the situation under control in the next few days,” he said, adding some 60 suspects have been arrested and all of them are Sri Lankans.
The minister on Tuesday said the Easter bombings were retaliation for attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15.