Sri Lanka mass cancelled over ‘specific attack threat’

Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has cancelled plans to resume Sunday services following a “specific threat” of fresh bomb attacks against at least two places of worship, a spokesman said.

The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, had wanted to resume regular mass from May 5, but the new information made them put it off indefinitely, his spokesman said on Thursday.

“On the advice of the security forces, we have decided not to have Sunday masses in any of the churches,” the spokesman said. “There is a specific threat against two locations.”

The Church had planned to resume Sunday public services for the first time since the Easter Sunday attacks that killed 257 people.

Last Sunday the cardinal conducted a private memorial mass that was broadcast live on television after cancelling all public services.

On Tuesday, he said he was closely monitoring investigations into the April 21 suicide attacks against three churches and three luxury hotels and wanted to be sure of the security situation before returning to regular services.

The services were cancelled a day after all political parties scrapped May Day rallies amid fears of bomb blasts.

The cardinal had hoped to start regular services at a few churches from Sunday and then expand depending on the situation.

Armed guards 

Armed guards have been stationed outside churches across the country since the Easter attacks.

The cardinal has also been given several bodyguards and a large security contingent.

However, he returned a bullet-proof limousine that was given by the government and instead travelled in an ordinary car.

“I am not afraid. I don’t need bullet-proof vehicles to go about. The Lord is my protector,” he said. “But I want security for my people, and for the country.”

Ranjith said he had concerns about the progress of security operations against jihadists behind the worst single-day attack against civilians in the country’s history.

The Church is also calling for tougher laws to deal with the perpetrators.

Police say they have arrested more than 150 suspects since the attacks and have accounted for all six jihadi suspects who were declared as most-wanted.

Two suspects have been killed while the other four were in custody, police said.

President Maithripala Sirisena announced on Friday that the authorities believed there were 140 Islamic State-inspired jihadists in Sri Lanka and he had ordered security forces to track them down.

The Easter attacks were blamed on the local National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) whose leader was among the suicide bombers. The group had pledged an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State.

The death toll from the attacks has climbed to 257, authorities said earlier Thursday, warning that the final number would rise further.

At least 40 of the dead are foreigners, with some missing tourists still to be accounted for.

According to the latest count, 496 injured were admitted to hospitals, with 47 still being treated and 12 of those in intensive care.

The government had given a toll of more than 350 but brought this down last week, blaming double counting of bodies that were badly mutilated in the six blasts.

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Amal Jayasinghe
Amal Jayasinghe
Bureau Chief, Sri Lanka / Maldives, Agence France - Presse (AFP)
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