COLOMBO: All suspected plotters and those directly linked to Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings have either been arrested or are dead, the country’s acting police chief said on Monday.
In an audio statement circulated by the defense ministry, Chandana Wickramaratne, the acting Inspector General of Police, said security forces had also confiscated bomb-making material intended for future use by the militants involved in the attacks, which killed more than 250 people.
The Ministry of Home Affairs said it had deported 600 foreigners who have overstayed their visas, including 200 Muslim clerics.
Sri Lankan authorities have said the bombings were believed to have been carried out by two little-known local extremist groups, the National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI). Daesh has claimed responsibility.
The decision to deport the overstayers was taken during Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s meeting with Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardena and Muslim Religious Affairs Minister M. H.A. Haleem recently.
“In a security crackdown following the bomb attacks, it was found that these clerics had entered the country (and) have overstayed their visas, for which fines were imposed before their deportation,” Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardena said in Colombo.
“Considering the current situation in the country, we have reviewed the visa system and took a decision to tighten visa restrictions for religious teachers,” Abeywardena said, adding that those deported included 200 religious preachers.
Sajeewa Wijeweera, media secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs, confirmed the deportation to Arab News on Monday.
He said that the clerics were from Arab countries, refusing to provide more details about nationalities.
However, Arab News has learnt that the visa overstayers, in addition to clerics from Arab countries, were from Bangladesh, India, the Maldives and Pakistan.
They were allegedly involved in teaching Arabic to Muslim students in private schools, including madrasas. According to authorities, a majority of them have been deported, while the remaining people will be asked to leave the country in the coming weeks as the crackdown intensifies.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, appealed to Christians, Buddhists and Muslims to show restraint after clashes between Christians and Muslims in a town near Negombo scarred by the suicide attacks on April 21.
After a declaration made by President Maithripala Sirisena, the country is in a state of emergency and had been conducting house-to-house searches for explosives and propaganda brochures distributed by extremists.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said on Monday that the search operations have led to several arrests, and the discovery of weapons, army uniforms and ammunition.
Seven suspects believed to be linked to the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) were arrested in the Mukarawewa area in Horowpathana on Monday. The suspects were in possession of items and documents related to the organization.
Meanwhile, two individuals believed to have aided and abetted the terrorist identified as Rilwan, the brother of Zahran Hashmi, were arrested in the Kattankudy area on Monday.
The STF believes that Rilwan manufactured bombs in 2018 and suffered injuries while examining one of the bombs.
The arrested suspects are believed to have helped him after the incident.
Police have found 456 sets of uniforms, which belong to the tri-forces, hidden in four places during a search operation carried out in Galle.
A stock of military uniforms and official badges used on army uniforms were also found in a shop in the capital.
A person from Maradana-Beruwala was in possession of 50 swords while traveling from Colombo to Beruwala and distributed them to various persons. On a joint mission of the police and the army, 27 bullets, including 25 live bullets, were found inside gutters on the roof of a two-story shop in Bibile.
Speaking about the Sunday night unrest in Negombo, Gunasekera described it as an isolated incident.
“An argument between two individuals and later involvement of a group of people under the influence of liquor resulted in an altercation between two mobs,” the spokesman said.
He said that police immediately defused the situation and as an additional security measure, a curfew was imposed within the Negombo police division from the same night to 7 a.m. on Monday. He said that a number of acts of vandalism were reported from Negombo and neighboring places such as Katana and Kochchikade.
The second academic term for students of grade 6 and above classes began on Monday amid tight security and special traffic arrangements.
The armed forces, police, civil security officers, parents and former students gathered at schools to provide protection.
However, Mohamed Alawi, an official from the provincial ministry of education, told Arab News that the turnout was very low.