Sri Lanka’s President Vows a Search of Every Home, as New Violence Erupts – Smart Media Magazine

Sri Lanka’s President Vows a Search of Every Home, as New Violence Erupts

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s security forces will conduct a house-to-house search to root out terrorists, the country’s president said on Friday, as the shaken nation grappled with new violence in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday carnage that killed at least 250 people.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s comments, in which he also promised a “total reorganization” of the security apparatus, were seen as tough talk to deflect criticism of the government’s failure to act on repeated warnings about terrorist attacks. But they were also a sign that threat levels remain high across the island nation, and officials have warned that potential suicide bombers could still be planning imminent attacks.

Just hours after the president spoke, security forces conducted at least two raids on the eastern coast, finding explosives and Islamic State flags in one area and facing gun battles and explosions in the other.

“Every household in the country will be checked,” Mr. Sirisena said in a meeting at his official residence with the heads of Sri Lankan media organizations, according to a statement released by his office. “The lists of permanent residents of every house will be established to ensure no unknown persons could live anywhere.”

In a nation of about 22 million people, that would require an enormous effort, and the president’s call brought flashbacks of life during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009. During those years, the security services maintained a pervasive presence in the capital, Colombo, because of threats of suicide bombings by the separatist Tamil Tigers.

The security services made themselves felt again on Friday as agents, with help from the intelligence agencies and several other countries, continued to search for people linked to the bombings, which they say were committed by a radical Islamist group tied to the Islamic State.

The two raids on the eastern coast occurred about 25 miles south of Batticaloa, where a church was bombed on Sunday, and two days after a large cache of explosives and 25 mobile phones were found after the arrest of a man in that city.

On Friday evening, three explosions went off and a gun battle erupted as security forces raided a suspected bomb workshop in the area of Kalmunai, a city on the eastern coast. The police and miliary “were proceeding in search of a location, said to be producing suicide bomb kits and explosives,” the Sri Lankan Army said in a statement, when five or six people “had begun firing at them.”

“They did not say a word about this warning letter,” Mr. Sirisena said. “It was a serious lapse on their part and shirk of responsibility.”

The Sri Lankan government has been consumed by months of infighting, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, a rival of the president, has complained that he was excluded from security meetings.

Before the bombings, the country’s intelligence forces knew of — and were monitoring — dozens of people in Sri Lanka who had traveled to Syria and joined the Islamic State, and others who had developed radical ties while in other countries, officials have said.

Pressed this week about why such people had been allowed into the country, the prime minister protested that no law in Sri Lanka prevented them from joining or fighting for a terrorist group overseas, or returning home afterward.

But after days of finger-pointing, Mr. Wickremesinghe also apologized in an address to the nation Friday.

“As the prime minister of Sri Lanka, I accept collective government responsibility for the failure to protect people from these attacks. As a government, I extend my sincerest apology to all citizens for our failures,” he said. “I hold myself accountable. And I am committed to ensuring these failures will never happen again.”

[ISIS reminded the world that it does not need to control territory to be a major threat.]

A local Islamist extremist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, is said to have carried out the bombings, and some people linked to the plot are still at large, officials said. Images posted online appear to show the Sri Lankans pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks, though its exact role is not clear.

Mr. Sirisena said that security forces were making widespread arrests, and that more than 70 people had been held so far. He said he believed there were as many as 140 supporters of the Islamic State in Sri Lanka, according to news reports.

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