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Sri Lanka still faces threat of ISIS terror attacks: PM Wickremesinghe

Colombo | Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday said that authorities have arrested or killed all the militants responsible for the deadly Easter blasts, but warned that the country still faces the threat of ISIS terror attacks.

Speaking in Parliament during a debate on the current security situation in the country, Wickremesinghe said all those directly linked to the Easter Sunday attacks were either killed or are in custody.

Nine suicide bombers carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels on the Easter Sunday. The Islamic State claimed the attacks, but the government blamed local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) for the bombings that killed more than 250 people.

Wickremesinghe said investigations had revealed the bombers had direct or indirect links with Islamic State and the island nation needed sophisticated technology to deal with the threat posed by such terror networks.

“The danger is not over, we are now a victim of global terrorism,” he said.

He said that Sri Lanka must work with the international community to face the global threat from terrorism.

“Some assume working with the international community means bringing down foreign troops. That will not happen,” he said.

His comments came as Sri Lankan police and military chiefs assured that the country is now safe and can get back to normalcy.

Addressing a press conference on Monday night, the tri-forces commanders and the police chief said the security of the country following the April 21 bombings has been ensured with adequate measures and steps have been taken to implement a special security plan.

Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana Wickremaratne said that all those directly linked to the attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels have been arrested or were killed.

He also said that all the explosives believed to be linked to local Islamist outfit National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), blamed for the attacks, have been found.

“All explosives possessed by the terrorist group has been seized. Almost everyone identified with the group have been arrested. Two of their bomb experts have died in the clashes. The police can happily announce that everyone with direct links have been either arrested or killed by now,” he said.

Wickramaratne did not say how many people have been arrested over the bombings, but police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera has said that 73 people, including nine women, were arrested and being questioned by the CID and the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID).

The spokesman also said the Criminal Investigation Department identified more than Rs 140 million cash and other assets worth over Rs 7 billion belonging to the NTJ.

Wickramaratne, who was named acting police chief last week after President Maithripala Sirisena suspended his predecessor over his failure to act on intelligence warnings about the attacks, said the country can now get back to normalcy with the lifting of curfews imposed after the attacks.

He urged the public not to be misled by unverified reports.

The government reopened schools on Monday, but attendance dropped to below 10 per cent in many places with parents still fearing attacks.

Wickremeratne said a joint security operation with schools authorities are underway. He pointed to unverified security fears spread through social media as the cause for unfounded security concerns.

Army chief Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake said the military has taken steps to ensure national security under the emergency regulations.

He said that over the past two weeks normalcy was returning to the country and the public must not be misled by false claims.

“All security measures to ensure safety in the country has been taken. The security forces were empowered by the emergency regulations since the attacks,” Senanayake said.

The tourism industry leaders have urged the government to make strong measures to enable the industry to revive following the Easter Sunday attacks on three leading hotels.

The suicide bombers attacked breakfast rooms of the Shangri La, The Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury Hotels.

The attacks in which 44 foreigners including 11 Indians were killed prompted adverse travel advisories.

At the moment most bookings are cancelled, with less than 10 per cent of occupancy we are in trouble,” Hoteliers Association president Sanath Ukawatta said.

The government has already decided on a package of concessions to the tourism industry which contributes 5 per cent of the island’s GDP.

The Tourism Authority said the total number of tourist arrivals during April was 166,975. This is an year on year decline of 7.5 per cent as the arrivals were 180,429 in April 2018.

Meanwhile, the St. Anthony’s church partially opened for worship Tuesday. Devotees will be able to visit the St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kotahena from 7 am to 7 pm.

Services will not be held at the Shrine. At present, the Navy is currently carrying out restoration activities at the Church.

Security measures have been tightened around Churches in order to ensure the safety of devotees who visit the shrine.

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