Warnings for bloody Easter were ignored, Sri Lanka's leaders admit

Photo: EPA Sri Lankan security personnel check vehicles and bags in Colombo, 25 April.

Sri Lanka is trying to breathe after a series of suicide bomb blasts in hotels and churches on Easter Sunday which killed 359 people, including 39 foreigner, but the information about the perpetrators and motives remains contradictory. However, Sri Lanka's leaders have admitted some of the country's security units were aware before Easter of possible attacks, but did not share those warnings widely.

In an address to Parliament on Wednesday, Ruwan Wijewardene, the state minister of defence, said “weakness” within Sri Lanka's security apparatus led to the failure to prevent the nine bombings. “By now it has been established that the intelligence units were aware of this attack and a group of responsible people were informed about the impending attack,” Wijewardene said. “However, this information has been circulated among only a few officials.”In a live address to the nation late Tuesday, Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena said he also was kept in the dark on the intelligence about the planned attacks and vowed to “take stern action” against the officials who failed to share the information. He also pledged “a complete restructuring” of the security forces.

Sri Lanka has been wracked by political divisions since a constitutional crisis last year, when President Maithripala Sirisena attempted to replace the incumbent PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe, with a favoured candidate. Wickremesinghe was reinstated in December after the intervention of the Supreme Court, but the government remains deeply divided.

The assault was the worst ever against the country's small Christian minority, who make up just 7% of the 21m population. According to the latest investigations in Colombo, the attacks were carried out by nine suicide bombers, including one woman.

The blasts have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group on Tuesday, with Sri Lanka's government pointing the finger at the little-known local Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), but saying the group likely had “international” help. Meanwhile, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern told reporters in Auckland that she had seen no intelligence report to back up a claim by Sri Lankan officials that the bombings were carried out in retaliation for the 15 March mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 people were killed.

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