The Latest: Sri Lanka president makes appeal for Muslims
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The Latest on the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka (all times local):
Sri Lanka’s president has appealed to the island nation not to view its minority Muslim community as terrorists in the wake of Easter Sunday attacks that officials say was carried out by a local Muslim extremist group.
President Maithripala Sirisena spoke to Colombo-based reporters on Friday. He says Sri Lanka has the capability “to completely control ISIS activities” in the country, referring to the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 250 people.
Officials have acknowledged that some intelligence units were made aware of a plot to attack churches weeks in advance. Sirisena says he was kept in the dark and placed the blame squarely on Sri Lanka’s defense secretary and police chief.
He says the defense secretary had resigned but would stay on until a replacement could be named, and that the police chief would soon step down, too.
Australia’s prime minister says the Sri Lankan militants blamed for the Easter attacks in that country had support from the Islamic State group.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Friday that ties between the local group and Islamic State included identifying the targets of the attacks. Sunday’s attacks killing at least 253 people primarily struck three churches that were packed with Easter worshippers and three luxury hotels popular with foreigners.
Morrison said the attacks demonstrated a new front in fighting terrorism, that militants who fought in Syria and Iraq had returned home with skills to carry out attacks while being part of a broader network that could provide money, training and target identification.
Heavy security is out on the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital after warnings of further attacks by the militant group blamed for the Easter bombing that killed at least 250 people.
At St. Anthony’s Church, one of those struck in the attacks Sunday, there were more soldiers than normal Friday. Shops nearby remained closed.
Gration Fernando crossed himself when he looked at the church after walking out of his shop there. Fernando says he, like other Sri Lankans, was worried about further attacks.
He says there’s “no security, no safety to go to church.” He also says “now children are scared to go to church” as well.
Authorities told Muslims to pray at home rather than attend communal Friday prayers that’s the most important of the week.