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Sri Lanka Failed to Head Attack Warning04/22 06:18

   Sri Lankan officials failed to heed warnings from intelligence agencies 
about the threat of an attack by a domestic radical Muslim group that officials 
blame for Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 200 people, the 
country's health minister said Monday.

   COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Sri Lankan officials failed to heed warnings from 
intelligence agencies about the threat of an attack by a domestic radical 
Muslim group that officials blame for Easter Sunday bombings that killed more 
than 200 people, the country's health minister said Monday.

   The coordinated bombings that ripped through churches and luxury hotels were 
carried out by seven suicide bombers from a militant group named National 
Thowfeek Jamaath, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said.

   International intelligence agencies warned of the attacks several times 
starting April 4, Senaratne said. On April 9, the defense ministry wrote to the 
police chief with intelligence that included the group's name, he said. On 
April 11, police wrote to the heads of security of the judiciary and diplomatic 
security division, Senaratne said.

   It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken in response. 
Authorities said little was known about the group except that its name had 
appeared in intelligence reports.

   Because of political dysfunction within the government, Seranatne said, 
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet were kept in the dark about 
the intelligence until after the attacks.

   President Maithrela Sirisena, who was out of the country at the time of the 
attacks, ousted Wickremesinghe in late October and dissolved the Cabinet. The 
Supreme Court eventually reversed his actions, but the prime minister has not 
been allowed into meetings of the Security Council since October.

   All of the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens, but authorities suspect foreign 
links, Senaratne said.

   Earlier, Ariyananda Welianga, a government forensic crime investigator, said 
an analysis of the attackers' body parts made clear that they were suicide 
bombers. He said most of the attacks were carried out by individual bombers, 
with two at Colombo's Shangri-La Hotel.

   The bombings, Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war 
ended a decade ago on the island nation, killed at least 290 people with more 
than 500 wounded, Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said Monday.

   Meanwhile, Sri Lankan police investigating the bombings are examining 
reports that intelligence agencies had warnings of possible attacks, officials 
said Monday.

   Two government ministers have alluded to intelligence failures. 
Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted, "Some intelligence officers 
were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious 
action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored." He said his 
father had heard of the possibility of an attack as well and had warned him not 
to enter popular churches.

   And Mano Ganeshan, the minister for national integration, said his 
ministry's security officers had been warned by their division about the 
possibility that two suicide bombers would target politicians.

   The police's Criminal Investigation Department, which is handling the 
investigation into the blasts, will look into those reports, Gunasekara said.

   Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, said the attacks could 
have been thwarted.

   "We placed our hands on our heads when we came to know that these deaths 
could have been avoided. Why this was not prevented?" he said.

   Earlier, Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the blasts as a 
terrorist attack by religious extremists, and police said 13 suspects had been 
arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

   The Tamil Tigers, once a powerful rebel army known for its use of suicide 
bombers, was crushed by the government in 2009, and had little history of 
targeting Christians. While anti-Muslim bigotry has swept the island in recent 
years, fed by Buddhist nationalists, the island also has no history of violent 
Muslim militants. The country's small Christian community has seen only 
scattered incidents of harassment in recent years.

   The explosions --- mostly in or around Colombo, the capital --- collapsed 
ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests in one 
scene after another of smoke, soot, blood, broken glass, screams and wailing 
alarms.

   A morgue worker in the town of Negombo, outside Colombo, where St. 
Sebastian's Church was targeted, said many bodies were hard to identify because 
of the extent of the injuries. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

   Lakmal, a 41-year-old businessman in Negombo who declined to provide his 
last name, went with his family to St. Sebastian's for Easter Mass. He said 
they all escaped the blast unscathed, but he remains haunted by images of 
bodies being taken from the sanctuary and tossed into a truck.

   At the Shangri-La Hotel, a witness said "people were being dragged out" 
after the blast.

   "There was blood everywhere," said Bhanuka Harischandra a 24-year-old from 
Colombo and founder of a tech marketing company. He was heading to the hotel 
for a meeting when it was bombed. "People didn't know what was going on. It was 
panic mode."

   Most of those killed were Sri Lankans. But the three bombed hotels and one 
of the churches, St. Anthony's Shrine, are frequented by foreign tourists, and 
Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners from a 
variety of countries were recovered.

   The U.S. said "several" Americans were among the dead, while Britain, India, 
China, Japan and Portugal said they, too, lost citizens.

   The streets were largely deserted Monday morning, with most shops closed and 
a heavy deployment of soldiers and police. Stunned clergy and onlookers 
gathered at St. Anthony's Shrine, looking past the soldiers to the stricken 
church.

   The Sri Lankan government initially lifted a curfew that had been imposed 
during the night but reinstated it Monday afternoon. Most social media remained 
blocked Monday after officials said they needed to curtail the spread of false 
information and ease tension in the country of about 21 million people.

   Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could 
trigger instability in Sri Lanka, and he vowed to "vest all necessary powers 
with the defense forces" to take action against those responsible.

   The scale of the bloodshed recalled the worst days of Sri Lanka's 26-year 
civil war, when the Tamil Tigers, from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought 
independence from the Sinhalese-dominated country. The Sinhalese are largely 
Buddhist. The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

   Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India, is about 70 percent Buddhist. In 
recent years, tensions have been running high between hard-line Buddhist monks 
and Muslims.

   Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks, as did 
countries around the world, and Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end 
of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in Rome.

   Six nearly simultaneous blasts took place in the morning at the shrine and 
the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo, as well as at 
two churches outside Colombo.

   A few hours later, two more blasts occurred just outside Colombo, one at a 
guesthouse where two people were killed, the other near an overpass, Atapattu 
said.

   Also, three police officers were killed during a search at a suspected safe 
house on the outskirts of Colombo when its occupants apparently detonated 
explosives to prevent arrest, authorities said.

   Authorities said a large bomb had been found and defused late Sunday on an 
access road to the international airport.

   Air Force Group Captain Gihan Seneviratne said Monday that authorities found 
a pipe bomb filled with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives. It was large 
enough to have caused damage to a 400-meter (400-yard) radius, he said.

   Harischandra, who witnessed the attack at the Shangri-La Hotel, said there 
was "a lot of tension" after the bombings, but added: "We've been through these 
kinds of situations before."

   He said Sri Lankans are "an amazing bunch" and noted that his social media 
feed was flooded with photos of people standing in long lines to give blood.


(CZ)

 
 
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