Sri Lanka Bombings Live Updates: Victims Interred in Mass Grave as More Arrests Are Made – The New York Times

• Intelligence agencies from across South Asia are sharing information about National Thowheeth Jama’ath, the radical Islamist group blamed for the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels across Sri Lanka. The country’s defense minister said Tuesday that the group, previously known for small-scale acts of vandalism, might have acted in “retaliation” for the March 15 attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. He did not elaborate.

• Sri Lanka’s highest-ranking Catholic official chastised the government for a serious lapse in security. The archbishop of Colombo, the country’s capital, blamed the authorities for failing to take action against National Thowheeth Jama’ath despite an intelligence memo issued at least 10 days before the bombings that warned the group was planning to attack churches.

• The first funerals were held on Tuesday at the damaged church in western Sri Lanka, where as many as 100 parishioners were killed by a suicide bomber. The coffins, many bearing the remains of children, were interred as the government declared a national day of mourning and raised the death toll from the weekend’s coordinated attacks to 321. Read about some of the victims.

• The number of suspects arrested in connection with the attacks increased to 40 from 24 on Tuesday as the government declared “emergency law.” The new law gives the police sweeping powers to detain and interrogate suspects without obtaining warrants.

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A funeral service at St. Sebastian’s Church.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

The coffins came one by one, some heavy and others much lighter.

As bulldozers cleared more space in a vacant lot near St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, barefoot men dripping with sweat scooped dirt with shovels in punishing heat.

One family stood in the shade. They were here for the burial of an 11-year-old boy.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said Lasanthi Anusha, a woman who came for the burial of her son’s classmate. “There were even smaller ones.”

Tuesday was the beginning of the first mass burials of the victims of Sunday’s suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 300 people, including many children. Soldiers and even an armored personnel carrier lined the roads as the burials took place amid widespread grief and intense security.

Of the half-dozen sites simultaneously attacked on Sunday, the church in Negombo was the hardest hit. As many as 100 people were killed in the suicide bombing there.

On Tuesday, priests wearing crisp white robes trimmed with black sashes held funerals in a large tent just outside the church. The funerals were scheduled to go on all day. The neighborhood around the church had been turned into an enormous, fortified mourning ground, with hundreds of soldiers deployed in every direction and little white flags fluttering in the wind.

Carrying a coffin at St. Sebastian’s Church.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

A full day of national mourning was declared across the country on Tuesday, as flags were lowered and a moment of silence was observed.

At 8:30 a.m., the time the first of six attacks were carried out on Sunday, Sri Lankans of differing faiths and ethnic groups bowed their heads and remained silent for three minutes.

Tuesday’s moment of silence coincided with a report from a police spokesman that the death toll had risen to 310, up from 290 on Monday.

As part of the mourning period, liquor stores were ordered closed. Radio and television stations have played somber music throughout the day.

The front pages of local newspapers were similarly solemn on Tuesday. One, The Daily Mirror, printed a stark, all-black cover that read, “In remembrance of all those who lost their lives on 21.04.2019.”

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, condemned the government on Tuesday for failing to act on an intelligence report that warned of a potential attack on churches.

“News media reported that there was information pertaining to a possible attack,” Cardinal Ranjith said at a news conference. “If that’s the case, couldn’t we have prevented the situation? Why wasn’t there any action?”

A security services briefing written at least 10 days before the bombings warned that National Thowheeth Jama’ath was planning to attack churches.

Surveying the damage at St. Sebastian’s Church on Monday.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

Whoever designed the suicide vests used in the blasts showed considerable competence, a fact that is certain to worry law enforcement agencies, said Scott Stewart, vice president for tactical analysis at Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm based in Austin, Tex.

When small, homegrown extremist groups use explosives, they often start with a series of failures. Some bombs fail to detonate completely, and others explode early, late or not at all.

But in the Sri Lanka attack, it appears that all seven suicide vests detonated and did heavy damage, Mr. Stewart said, indicating skill at making bombs and manually activated detonators, and suggesting access to a large supply of military-grade high explosives.

“You don’t do that by accident, so they must have a fairly decent logistics network and funding,” he added.

But Joshua A. Geltzer, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, said he would not be surprised if a small group had been able to stage the attack without direct help.

“There is so, so much instruction and guidance available on the open internet these days, not to mention whatever is circulating on encrypted chat groups, widely available in terrorist circles if not totally public,” he said.

Unexploded bombs, apparently not designed for suicide attacks, were found in other public places in Sri Lanka. That suggests that the bomb maker (or makers) was less expert at detonation using timers or remote control, Mr. Stewart said.

President Maithripala Sirisena in December. Mr. Sirisena’s government has given additional powers to the police and security forces to detain and interrogate people.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

Sri Lankan officials took a series of extraordinary steps in an effort to keep control of their shaken country, aiming to prevent further extremist attacks and retaliatory violence.

President Maithripala Sirisena said the government had given additional powers to the police and security forces to detain and interrogate people, and a curfew was imposed on Monday for the second day in a row, from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m.

The government temporarily blocked several networks, including Facebook and Instagram. Users also reported being unable to access the messaging services WhatsApp and Viber.

Though Sunday’s attacks have no known link to social media, Sri Lanka has a troubled history with violence incited on the platforms. The ban was an extraordinary step that reflected growing global concerns about social media.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/23/world/asia/sri-lanka-bombing.html

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