U.S. says to avoid places of worship in Sri Lanka

The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka warned on Thursday that places of worship could be targeted for militant attacks over the coming weekend, as police searched for more suspects in the Islamic State-claimed Easter suicide bombings.

The stark warning came as Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told that he believed militants, likely with access to explosives, remained on the loose in the island nation off the southern tip of India. He said they “may go out for a suicide attack”.

“We have rounded up a lot of suspects but there are still active people on the run,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said in an interview. “They may be having explosives with them, so we have to find them.”

Police, meanwhile, issued an appeal for information about three women and two men suspected of involvement in the Easter bombings.

The U.S. Embassy’s warning, issued on Twitter, was strikingly specific compared to ones often issued by American diplomatic posts around the world. “Sri Lankan authorities are reporting that additional attacks may occur targeting places of worship,” the tweet said. “Avoid these areas over the weekend, starting tomorrow.”

Already, many Sri Lankan faith leaders had cancelled or changed services in the country.

Muslim Religious Affair Minister Abdul Haleem appealed to the Islamic community to avoid gathering for Friday Congregational prayers. The noon prayers are the most important in the week for Muslims. Mr. Haleem instead urged Sri Lankans to pray in their homes.

The Rev. Niroshan Perera, a priest overseeing funerals of people killed in the blast at St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo, said Catholic churches in the city, known as “Little Rome” for its many religious buildings, were all closed and had cancelled Mass upon the advice of government security officials.

Rev. Perera said an official had warned him that police were still searching for two armed suspects. “Little bit, we are nervous,” he said.

Across Colombo and in Negombo, where 110 people died, residents and office workers stayed indoors and closed up shops on Thursday, leaving both cities unusually quiet.

Sri Lanka’s civil aviation authority also banned drones and unmanned aircraft “in view of the existing security situation in the country,” according to a statement.


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