Colombo, Apr 24 (AP/UNB) — Sri Lanka’s president has asked for the resignations of the defense secretary and the national police chief after security forces failed to act on warnings before Easter suicide bombings that killed over 350 people.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s office announced that he asked for the resignations Wednesday.
It wasn’t immediately clear who would replace them.
Sirisena said during a televised speech on Tuesday that he planned to change the head of the defense forces within 24 hours.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, which struck churches and hotels in the island nation. A Sri Lankan official has blamed breakaway members of two obscure local extremist Muslim groups.
Sri Lanka’s Muslim civil society movements and associations have called upon authorities to immediately arrest and punish the perpetrators of Sunday Easter bombings that killed more than 350 people, saying extremism in the name of Islam does not represent the religion.
A joint statement says authorities should also apprehend those who aided and abetted the attackers through incitement, financing and other support.
It says neither the National Thawheed Jamaath nor those who carried out the attacks represent Islam or reflect Muslim beliefs. The statement says they have misused and abused Islam in order to fit their own radical and anti-Islamic agenda, and are criminals.
The signatories include All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, the Muslim Council, Jama’athe Islami, the Memon Association of Sri Lanka and Anjuman-E Saifi.
The U.S. ambassador says America had “no prior knowledge” of a threat in Sri Lanka before the Easter bombings that killed more than 350 people.
Ambassador Alaina Teplitz made the remarks Wednesday to foreign journalists at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo.
Teplitz said there was a “right-sized” team of FBI agents and U.S. military officials assisting Sri Lanka in the investigation.
Teplitz also said “clearly there was some failure in the system” for Sri Lanka prior to Easter bombings.
Sri Lanka’s government has acknowledged it received warnings of a local extremist group threatening churches and the prime minister said some people might lose their job over the intelligence failures.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she hasn’t received any official advice from Sri Lanka or seen any intelligence reports to corroborate claims from Sri Lanka’s government that the Easter attacks were in retaliation for the mosque massacres in Christchurch last month.
Ardern told reporters in Auckland that Sri Lanka is in the early stages of its investigation, and that New Zealand plans to stand back and allow it to proceed. She said she hadn’t been in direct contact with Sri Lanka, although officials from the two countries were in contact.
Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said earlier the government had evidence the bombings were carried out by an Islamic fundamentalist group in retaliation for the March 15 mosque shootings in Christchurch that killed 50 people.
The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka says the FBI is on the ground in the country to help assist its investigation into the Easter suicide bombings that killed 359 people.
The embassy said it was part of the support extended by President Trump.
The embassy in Colombo declined to immediately elaborate.
Police say the death toll in the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58.
The prime minister warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large.
Another top government official said the suicide bombings at the churches, hotels and other sites were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacre last month.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks and released images that purported to show the attackers. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that investigators were still determining the extent of the bombers’ foreign links.