COLOMBO — Sri Lankan police are trying to track down 140 people believed linked to Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed 253, as shooting erupted in the east during a raid.
Muslims in Sri Lanka were urged to pray at home after the State Intelligence Services warned of possible car bomb attacks, amid fears of retaliatory violence.
And the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka urged its citizens to avoid places of worship over the weekend after authorities reported there could be more attacks targeting religious centres.
Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told reporters he had seen a leaked internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and there would be no Catholic masses this Sunday anywhere on the island.
The streets of Colombo were deserted on Friday evening, with many people leaving offices early amid tight security after the suicide bombing attacks on three churches and four hotels that also wounded about 500 people.
President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with Islamic State since 2013. He said information uncovered so far suggested there were 140 people in Sri Lanka involved in Islamic State activities.
“Police are looking to arrest them,” Sirisena said.
Nearly 10,000 soldiers were deployed across the Indian Ocean island state to carry out searches and provide security for religious centres, the military said on Friday.
The All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ullama, Sri Lanka’s main Islamic religious body, urged Muslims to conduct prayers at home in case “there is a need to protect family and properties”.
Illustrating the tension that has gripped the country, shooting erupted between security forces and a group of men in the east during a search and cordon operation, a military spokesman said.
The raid took place in the town of Ampara Sainthamaruthu near Batticaloa. The spokesman said there was an explosion in the area and when soldiers went to investigate they were fired upon. No details of casualties were immediately available.
Police have detained at least 76 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, in their investigations so far.
Islamic State provided no evidence to back its claim that it was behind the attacks. If true, it would be one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria.
The extremist group released a video on Tuesday showing eight men, all but one with their faces covered, standing under a black Islamic State flag and declaring their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. — Reuters