Bomb scare, suspicious vehicle rattle
nervous Sri Lanka amid attack probe
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[April 25, 2019]
By Sanjeev Miglani
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan authorities
locked down the central bank and the road leading to the jittery
capital's airport was shut briefly by a bomb scare on Thursday as more
people were swept up in the search for those behind Easter Sunday
bombings that killed 359.
Two bank officials told Reuters the street outside the building near the
World Trade Center in the capital, Colombo, was blocked to traffic
before the security alert was lifted.
Underscoring the nervous atmosphere in the Indian Ocean nation,
authorities also shut the entry road to Colombo's main airport after a
suspicious vehicle was identified at a nearby carpark. The road was
reopened when the alert was declared a false alarm.
A police spokesman also said there was a so-far unexplained explosion in
a town east of the capital but there were no casualties. It was not a
controlled detonation like other blasts in recent days and was being
investigated, he said.
More people, including foreigners, were swept up for questioning
overnight as domestic and international authorities probed deeper into
the bombings, which were potentially the deadliest operation claimed by
About 500 people were also wounded in the attacks on three churches and
Police said an Egyptian and several Pakistanis were among those detained
overnight, although there was no immediate suggestion they had direct
links to the attacks.
A picture has slowly emerged of a group of nine well-educated,
home-grown Islamist suicide bombers, including a woman, who carried out
the attacks in the South Asian nation.
However, authorities have also focused their investigations on
international links to domestic Islamist groups - National Thawheed
Jama'ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - they believed carried out the
Islamic State offered no firm information to back up its claim of
The Islamist group released a video on Tuesday that showed eight men,
all but one with their faces covered, standing under a black Islamic
State flag and declaring their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr
The man whose face could be seen has been identified as Mohamed Zahran,
a preacher from the east of Sri Lanka known for his militant views who
officials believe was the attack's mastermind.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday another of the
bombers had lived in Australia with his wife and child on a student visa
but left in 2013.
Morrison did not identify the man, although his family have said his
name was Abdul Latheef Mohamed Jameel.
"I can confirm that the suicide bomber had been in Australia," Morrison
Police said on Thursday 16 more people were detained for questioning
overnight, taking the number held since Sunday to at least 76. That
number includes a Syrian national.
A police statement said one of those detained overnight was linked to a
"terrorist organization" but gave no other details.
It said another was taken into custody after they investigated posts on
the individual's Facebook page and found what they described as "hate
[to top of second column]
Police keep watch outside the family home of a bomber suspect where
an explosion occurred during a Special Task Force raid, following a
string of suicide attacks on churches and luxury hotels, in Colombo,
Sri Lanka April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
"It was related to the spreading and preaching of terrorism," a
police spokesman said.
Others have also been caught up in the broader crackdown.
Police said they detained an Egyptian who was found not to have a
valid visa or passport. The man taught Arabic in a school about 70
km (45 miles) from Colombo and had been living in Sri Lanka for more
than seven years.
A police spokesman also said a group of Pakistanis had been detained
among an unspecified number of foreign nationals for overstaying
The bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in
Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu,
ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a
return to sectarian violence.
Sri Lanka's 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims
and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the
worst of the island's conflict and communal tensions.
President Maithripala Sirisena will meet representatives of
different faiths later on Thursday to address concerns of a
Muslims have fled the Negombo region on Sri Lanka's west coast since
scores of worshippers were killed in the bombing of the St.
Sebastian church there on Sunday. Communal tensions have since
Hundreds of Pakistani Muslims left the port city on Wednesday,
crammed into buses, after threats of revenge.
"Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place
here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses," Adnan
Ali, a Pakistani Muslim, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus.
Sri Lankan officials have said they believed the bombings were
carried out in retaliation for the March 15 attacks by a lone gunman
on two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she has seen no
evidence to support that claim.
Most of the Easter Sunday victims were Sri Lankans, although
authorities confirmed at least 38 foreigners were also killed. These
included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese,
Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez
and Ranga Sirilal in COLOMBO, Alasdair Pal and Sunil Kataria in
NEGOMBO, and Will Ziebell in MELBOURNE; Writing by Paul Tait;
Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)
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