Sri Lankan police officials on Thursday warned of possible attacks on Sufi Muslims by Muslim extremists, and Muslim leaders urged the cancellation of Friday Prayers as officials debated missed chances to stop the deadly Easter Sunday suicide bombings.
Amid the heightened security concerns on Thursday, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo suspended services for Catholic worshipers through the weekend.
A letter distributed to security officials said there was “credible information” that the terrorist group led by Mohamed Zaharan, which the authorities say carried out the Sunday bombings, was planning another attack “specifically targeting Sufi shrines.” Several officials confirmed the authenticity of the letter.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who has tried to deflect criticism that he bears some responsibility for the failures, had called on two security officials, Pujith Jayasundara, the inspector general of the police, and Hemasiri Fernando, the defense secretary, to resign on Wednesday.
A day later, there was no public confirmation that they had done so.
Fear of new dangers swirled Thursday, a day after the United States ambassador had warned of possible ongoing terrorist plots. Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau on Thursday issued a Level 2 travel advisory, the second highest, warning of a “high concrete threat” in Sri Lanka after the attacks that left more than 350 people dead.
Police roadblocks went up around the country and the Central Bank and office buildings in Colombo, the capital, were temporarily put on lockdown.
The police briefly closed the road to the country’s main airport in Negombo while they searched a suspicious car. A small blast was reported in a town about 20 miles east of Colombo. No one was injured.
The police in Colombo arrested three people with more than 20 grenade-like explosives and six swords, local news media reported.
Sri Lanka’s civil aviation authority said Thursday that it was banning the use of drones because of continuing security concerns.
Investigators continued to examine what role the extremist group ISIS played in the deadly Easter Sunday attacks, which also injured about 500 people. The group claimed responsibility for the attacks on Tuesday, releasing a video that showed Mohammed Zaharan, an extremist preacher, and masked disciples proclaiming their allegiance to the group.
Mr. Zaharan, who is believed to have been one of the bombers, is the leader of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a group the Sri Lankan authorities said carried out the attacks.
But the group had previously been known for little besides the destruction of the Buddhist statues, raising questions about whether it received foreign assistance and the extent of ISIS’ involvement. ISIS once held vast territories in Iraq and Syria, and the collapse of its caliphate last month has heightened fears of its fighters spreading violence elsewhere.
The bombers were all Sri Lankan, mostly well educated and from middle-class families, officials said. The eight bombers included two sons of a spice tycoon, Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim. A woman, described as the likely wife of one of those sons, detonated an explosive that killed herself, her two children and several police officers as the family’s villa was raided Sunday.
On Thursday, officials said that Mr. Ibrahim had been arrested on charges of aiding his sons in the attacks.
The warning of possible attacks against Sufi mosques could tap into decade-old tensions. Threats to local Sufis in the Kattankudy area on the country’s east coast go back as far as 2006, when local Sufis appealed for help after asserting that an influx of extremist Wahhabi Muslims were making life hard for them.
Sufism is a strain of Islam that focuses on a personal search for God. It sometimes comes under attack from more extremist forms of Islam.
News credit : Nytimes