Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in an interview to Doordarshan News said his country was thankful for the information provided by India regarding the terror strikes and it was "unfortunate" that they could not act on it. Wickremesinghe added that the two countries have been exchanging information for "some time" and that further discussions are on.
Replying to a query on the immediate challenges his country is facing, Wickremesinghe told Doordarshan News, "Terrorism. We've had domestic terrorism in the form of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), one of the worst groups. Secondly, what we face now is part of the jihadi international terrorist campaign, so we have to face up to it. Here we see a small group of people, unlike the LTTE which was a large group mainly involved in guerrilla and conventional fighting. Explosives and suicide bombers were support groups. On the other hand, this group replies completely on this type of suicide missions. So, we've got to adjust to the fact that they may have had some international connections."
"But on the bright side, our reconciliation worked and there was no communal backlash. People have held together, Christians and Muslims have worked together, we have to build on this and eliminate terror. As far as our economy is concerned, we are worried, of course. For tourism, May was the beginning of the lean season, but we have to resolve so that people come in by August, when our tourist season begins. But, of course, our earnings would not be as high as we had anticipated," he added.
Wickremesinghe earlier said the government knew that Sri Lankan nationals who joined the Islamic State had returned, but they could not be arrested as joining a foreign terrorist organisation is not against the law in the island nation. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Easter terror attacks on three Catholic churches and three luxury hotels that claimed 253 lives but the government has blamed a local Islamist extremist group National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) for the bombings.
“We knew they went to Syria...But in our country, to go abroad and return or to take part in a foreign armed uprising is not an offence,” Wickremesinghe earlier told Sky News. “We have no laws which enable us to take into custody people who join foreign terrorist groups. We can take those who are, who belong to terrorist groups operating in Sri Lanka," he was quoted as saying.
Facing public criticism for not acting against Islamist extremist groups in the island nation, Wickremesinghe said some of the suspected attackers responsible for the Easter bombings were being monitored by the country's intelligence services.
But authorities did not have "sufficient" evidence to place the suspected attackers in custody prior to the attacks, he said. Top officials have acknowledged that Sri Lanka received intelligence about possible terror strikes ahead of the attacks, but both President Maithripala Sirisena and Wickremesinghe said that they did not receive the information. Wickremesinghe told CNN that he did not rule out the possibility of more attacks in the country. He said authorities were now focussing on "sleepers": terrorists who could activate another round of attacks.
"Police and security forces are rounding up those involved, but they're also rounding up the sleepers, those used on second and third rounds (of attacks)," he said. "The danger has come down drastically, (but) we do have to pick up some more sleepers, which we will do in the next few days." Sri Lankan police have released photos of six suspects, including three women, wanted for their involvement in the attacks and sought information regarding them from the public. Authorities earlier said nine bombers, believed to be members of local Islamist extremist group NTJ, carried out the blasts.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2019 22:48:02 IST