Days after the serial bomb blasts in Colombo that killed more than 350 people and injured over 500, another explosion took place in Pugoda town, 40 kilometres east of Colombo on Thursday morning (April 25). Meanwhile, all church services have been suspended in the island nation. Also, 16 more suspects have been arrested in connection with the horrific Easter Sunday blasts. Search operations, is still on to identify more suspects, if any. Over 5,000 army personnel have been deployed around the country. The curfew which was imposed at 10 pm on Wednesday was lifted at 4 am on Thursday.
Police spokerperson Ruwan Gunasekera said that the Pugoda blast occurred in an empty land behind the magistrate’s court in Pugoda town. No casualties were reported. Search operations of suspected properties, arrests and detention of people and to place road blocks for such operations have been facilitated by the newly-enforced emergency regulations. The regulations were adopted without a vote in Parliament on Wednesday (April 24).
The arrested people were being interrogated at length by investigation sleuths to get to the bottom of the planning and execution of country’s deadliest attack in a decade. Nine suicide bombers, believed to be the members of a local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), are the ones who carried out the devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels.
IS claims responsibility not NTJ
Officials said that with the arrest of 16 more people on Wednesday, the total number of suspects under police custody has risen to 76. Many of the arrested people have suspected links to the NTJ, the group blamed for the bombings.
However, the NTJ has not claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Islamic State is the one which claimed responsibility and identified the suicide bombers who carried out the carnage.
Authorities have deployed thousands of troops to help police carry out search operations. “We have deployed over 6,300 troops. This includes 1,000 from the Airforce and 600 from the Navy,” military spokesman Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said.
To rally the country behind the government, President Maithripala Sirisena has convened an all-party meeting. He would also meet religious leaders. Both parleys are to discuss the attacks dubbed as among the five deadliest terrorist attacks carried out since the 9/11 in the US.
Though Sirisena has asked police chief Pujith Jayasundera and defence ministry secretary Hemasiri Fernando to step down, there was no confirmation if they have resigned. The police chief’s position is an independent post determined by the Constitutional Council. He cannot be constitutionally removed unless he resigns himself or removed thorough a parliamentary procedure, officials said.
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the head of the local catholic church, has asked all churches to stop masses until the situation improved, his office said. On Wednesday, the Sri Lankan government admitted that “major” intelligence lapses led to the horrific coordinated attacks.
(With inputs from agencies)