Colombo: The Sri Lankan government never expected the Easter Sunday bombings of such magnitude, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando said Tuesday and asserted that it would have been ‘impossible’ to protect a large number of churches in the country despite receiving prior intelligence about the attacks which killed 290 people, including eight Indians.
In the wake of the killings, the Defence Secretary also said that the army has been given ‘sweeping powers’ and they could detain arrest and detain anybody they wanted.
Seven suicide bombers believed to be members of local Islamist extremist group National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) carried out Easter Sunday a series of devastating blasts that tore through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka Easter, in the country’s worst terror attack.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police have so far arrested 24 people – mostly members of an Islamist extremist group – in connection with the blasts that also killed 31 foreigners.
“It was quite impossible to protect a large number of churches last Sunday despite receiving prior information to these attacks,” Fernando told reporters. “An emergency law is non-functional in this country since Sri Lanka is a democratic country. Therefore there is very little I can do,” he added.
Fernando noted that the state intelligence service had already informed the government of a small but organised and powerful criminal group operating in the country. He said the FBI has already commenced investigations into the incident while the Interpol is expected to arrive in the country later Tuesday.
The Defence Secretary also said the government will not provide protection to hotels as it is an aspect which must be looked after by their respective security officials. He pointed out that the government had not provided security to hotels even during the civil war.
In another development Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could unleash instability and pledged to ‘vest all necessary powers with the defense forces’ to act against those responsible.
Adding to the tension, three unexploded bombs blew up Monday inside a van parked near one of the stricken churches as police were trying to defuse them, sending pedestrians fleeing in panic. No injuries were reported.
The government meanwhile has blocked access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram after the blasts, creating confusion and doing little to reassure residents and visitors that the danger had passed.