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Easter Sunday bombings: Here’s how Sri Lanka is cracking down on suspected terrorists

The President's official statement said he was using emergency powers to ban any form of covering of the face in public, which would be effective from Monday. This is the latest development that comes a week after the attacks.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
April 29, 2019 12:27:07 pm
Sri Lanka blasts: How the country stepped up its security after Easter Sunday attacks The Sri Lankan government, since after the attack, has taken several measures to curb more attacks and find the perpetrators. (Reuters/File)

A week after terrorists carried out the deadly suicide bombings in the island nation of Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 250 and wounding many more, President Maithripala Sirisena Sunday announced a ban on covering of face that makes identification difficult.

The President’s official statement said he was using emergency powers to ban any form of covering of the face in public, which would be effective from Monday.

The co-ordinated attacks targetted three prominent churches and three famous 5-star hotels in Sri Lanka. The three churches that were targeted are St. Anthony’s church in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and an evangelical church in the eastern town of Batticaloa. Three explosions were also reported from five-star hotels, Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury.

Here is a timeline of how the country stepped up its security after the deadly Easter Sunday bombings.

Nationwide curfew and social media ban

The Sri Lankan government, in the wake of the blasts, imposed a nationwide curfew effective the same day, which would last “until further notice.”A temporary ban on social media was imposed hours after the attacks took place. Messaging apps and social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp were blocked in the entire country. “The government has decided to block all social media platforms in order to prevent incorrect and wrong information being spread. This is only a temporary measure,” a statement released by the President’s office said.

Sri Lanka blasts: How the island nation stepped up its security after Easter Sunday attacks Soldiers stand guard outside the Badhiriy Yah Jum’ah Mosque in Kattankudy, Sri Lank. (New York Times)

Govt orders probe

President Sirisena appointed a three-member committee, the next day, to investigate the bombings. Retired Supreme Court judge Vijith Malalgoda was appointed as the chairperson of the committee, along with two other judges, N K Illangakoon and P Jayamanna.

National mourning ordered

The government declared April 23, Tuesday, as a national day of mourning. The mood of national mourning was reflected in the silence, with most shops in Colombo remaining shut. The airport was also largely deserted Tuesday morning, with no queues at immigration counters.

President Sirisena announced that he will seek help from his foreign counterparts to track any international links in the Easter Sunday bombings. “The intelligence reports (indicate) that foreign terrorist organisations are behind the local terrorists. Therefore, the president is to seek the assistance of the foreign countries,” his office said in a statement.

Sri Lanka blasts: How the island nation stepped up its security after Easter Sunday attacks Authorities have detained more than 100 people since the April 21 bombings. (AP)

Interpol, FBI send teams

The international criminal police organisation Interpol sent a team of investigators to the island nations to assist them with the investigations into the attacks. The Interpol team included disaster-victim identification experts and experts with experience and expertise in crime scene examination, explosives, and counter-terrorism. US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also sent a team to the island nation to assist it with the investigation.

Special powers to military

The Sri Lankan military was given special powers to arrest the suspects. These were given at the time of the civil war. However, the President’s office said that these powers were limited until dealing with terrorism and will not affect the freedom of expression.

Sri Lanka blasts: How the island nation stepped up its security after Easter Sunday attacks Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks.

State of emergency

Sri Lanka was placed under a state of emergency as the authorities aimed to maintain security and other services during their investigation. The security forces were given powers, including the right to search and arrest individuals. The country’s authorities also banned the use of drones and other unmanned devices in its airspace till further orders.

President replaces defence secretary, police chief

The Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday, replaced the defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando and the national police chief Pujith Jayasundara in the wake of the bombings, after they ‘failed to act on prior warning about the attacks’.

Sri Lanka blasts: How the island nation stepped up its security after Easter Sunday attacks

People react as silence is observed as a tribute to victims, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks. (Reuters)

Lanka suspends visa-free plan for 39 countries

Sri Lanka government, Thursday, suspended plans to grant visa-free entry to 39 countries. “Although arrangements were in place to issue visas on arrival for citizens of 39 countries, we have now decided to hold it for the time being in consideration of the current security situation,” Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said in a statement. “Investigations have revealed foreign links to the attacks and we don’t want this facility to be abused,” he added.

Father of suspected suicide bomber arrested

The father of two suspected suicide bombers was arrested by the Lankan Police on suspicion of aiding his sons on Thursday. Sri Lanka’s former navy chief Jayanath Colombage, who now is a counter-terrorism expert at the Pathfinder Foundation, confirmed the arrest.

Sri Lanka blasts: How the island nation stepped up its security after Easter Sunday attacks A peace prayer for the victims of serial blasts in Sri Lanka, at Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya in Bihar. (PTI)

Overnight raids

In an overnight raid on the suspect’s hideout Saturday, 15 people, including six children, died when three suicide bombers blew themselves up. “Three other men, also believed to be suicide bombers, were found dead outside the house,” the police said in a statement.

Police forces launched a search operation at the headquarters of the National Thowheeth Jamath on Sunday. The NTJ is suspected of being behind the suicide bombings. A total of 76 people have been taken into custody so far with Lankan authorities intensifying their raids with the help of the army.

Ban on covering face

President Sirisena announced a ban on covering of the face. The ban will be effective from Monday. “The ban is to ensure national security… No one should obscure their faces to make identification difficult,” Sirisena said in a statement. The move came days after local Muslim clerics urged their women not to cover their faces amid escalating fears of a backlash after the blasts.

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