New attacks on Sri Lanka churches planned, says archbishop

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith says churches and Catholic schools will be closed throughout Sri Lanka ‘until further notice’.

Sri Lanka’s Catholic cardinal has received “foreign information” that attempts would be made this week to attack a church.

According to a letter he sent to church officials that appeared on social media on Thursday, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith – archbishop of Colombo – said he was closing churches and Catholic schools throughout Sri Lanka and cancelling public congregations for mass “until further notice”.

“For your own good, we have decided to close down those institutions,” wrote Ranjith, who is also an outspoken critic of the Sri Lankan government’s apparent failure to act on Indian government intelligence in advance of the Easter attacks.

Church spokesman Reverend Edmund Thilakaratne in an interview confirmed the authenticity of the letter to The Associated Press but declined to disclose further details, including the source of the foreign information.

An Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS)-linked group of Sri Lankan nationals carried out coordinated suicide bombings on Easter Sunday at three churches and three luxury hotels on the island that killed 257 people.

Shut down

Earlier on Thursday, Tillakaratne said that Ranjith cancelled all Sunday services for a second week in the diocese based on the latest security reports.

Last week, Muslims were told to stay home for Friday prayers and all of Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches were closed. Instead of the usual Sunday mass, Ranjith delivered a homily before clergy and national leaders at his residence that was broadcast on television.

Officials have warned that suspects linked to the bombings are still at large.

The death toll from the April 21 bombings at churches and luxury hotels rose to 257 people from 253 last week, Health Ministry chief Dr Anil Jasinghe said on Thursday. He said 47 people were still being treated in hospitals, including 12 in intensive care.

Suspects’ identities

Sri Lankan police late Wednesday released the names and photographs of nine alleged suicide bombers who carried out the Easter attacks, all belonging to an offshoot of a local group called National Towheed Jamaat.

They included Mohamed Zahran, also known as Zahran Hashim, who was described as the attack leader, and the wife of another suicide bomber who blew herself up along with her children and three police officers, at a villa belonging to her father-in-law, who was a prominent spice trader.

With the atmosphere still tense in Colombo, Sri Lankan Islamic group Ceylon Thawheed Jama’ath appealed to reporters for help on Thursday, clarifying it was not connected to National Towheed Jamaat.

The group’s general-secretary, Abdur Razik, said there were many groups in Sri Lanka with names that include the words “Thawheed Jama’ath”, which roughly translates to “monotheism organisation”.

Razik’s group is among several that have organised news conferences to clear their names after being confused in news reports with the group accused of carrying out the bombings.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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