Sri Lanka shakes up top se­cu­rity posts

The News-Times - - NATION/WORLD -

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s pres­i­dent shook up the coun­try’s top se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment after of­fi­cials failed to act on in­tel­li­gence re­ports warn­ing of pos­si­ble at­tacks be­fore the Easter bomb­ings that killed over 350 peo­ple, his of­fice said Wed­nes­day.

The cap­i­tal of Colombo, mean­while, re­mained rat­tled by re­ports that po­lice were con­tin­u­ing to con­duct con­trolled de­t­o­na­tions of sus­pi­cious items three days after the at­tacks on churches and lux­ury ho­tels, and the U.S. am­bas­sador said that Wash­ing­ton be­lieves “the ter­ror­ist plot­ting is on­go­ing.”

Dur­ing a tele­vised speech to the na­tion Tues­day night, Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena said he would change the head of the de­fense forces within 24 hours, and on Wed­nes­day he asked for the res­ig­na­tions of the de­fense sec­re­tary and na­tional po­lice chief in a dra­matic internal shake-up. He did not say who would re­place them.

Sirisena said he had been kept in the dark on the in­tel­li­gence about the planned at­tacks and vowed to “take stern ac­tion” against of­fi­cials who failed to share it.

Gov­ern­ment lead­ers have ac­knowl­edged that some in­tel­li­gence units were aware of pos­si­ble at­tacks weeks be­fore the bomb­ings that struck three churches and three lux­ury ho­tels. The death toll rose Wed­nes­day to 359, with 500 peo­ple wounded. Po­lice spokesman Ruwan Gu­nasekara also said 18 sus­pects were ar­rested overnight, rais­ing the to­tal de­tained to 58.

Sri Lankan au­thor­i­ties have blamed a lo­cal ex­trem­ist group, Na­tional Towheed Ja­maat, whose leader, al­ter­nately named Mo­hammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, be­came known to Mus­lim lead­ers three years ago for his in­cen­di­ary on­line speeches. On Wed­nes­day, ju­nior de­fense min­is­ter Ruwan Wi­je­w­ar­dene said the at­tack­ers had bro­ken away from Na­tional Towheed Ja­maat and another group, which he iden­ti­fied only as “JMI.”

The Is­lamic State group has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks. Au­thor­i­ties re­main un­sure of the group’s in­volve­ment, though au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether for­eign mil­i­tants ad­vised, funded or guided the lo­cal bombers.

Wi­je­w­ar­dene said many of the sui­cide bombers were highly ed­u­cated and came from well-to-do fam­i­lies.

“Their think­ing is that Is­lam can be the only re­li­gion in this coun­try,” he told reporters. “They are quite well-ed­u­cated peo­ple,” he said, adding that at least one had a law de­gree and some may have stud­ied in the U.K. and Aus­tralia.

A Bri­tish se­cu­rity of­fi­cial has con­firmed a re­port that a sui­cide bomber who is be­lieved to have stud­ied in the U.K. between 2006 and 2007 was Ab­dul Lathief Jameel Mo­hamed. The se­cu­rity of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence was not watching Mo­hamed dur­ing his stay in the coun­try. His name was first re­ported by Sky News.

A team of FBI agents and U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials were help­ing in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said U.S. Am­bas­sador Alaina Teplitz.

Muham­mad Sa­j­jad / As­so­ci­ated Press

Peo­ple light can­dles in Peshawar, Pak­istan, Wed­nes­day dur­ing a vigil for the vic­tims of the bomb ex­plo­sions in churches and ho­tels in Sri Lanka. The Easter Sun­day sui­cide bomb­ings at churches and ho­tels killed over 350 peo­ple and in­jured 500.

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