Sri Lanka Is Rattled by New Threats as Officials Argue Over Responsibility

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Sri Lanka Is Rattled by New Threats as Officials Argue Over Responsibility

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Hundreds of police officers swept through Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Thursday, shutting down large parts of the capital city and looking urgently for six suspects — three men and three women — connected to the Easter Sunday attacks who might be planning a new wave of bloodshed.

The country’s defense secretary, Hemasiri Fernando, resigned after the president blamed him for failing to act on warnings of an impending assault. At least ten days before the attack, the Sri Lankan government had detailed intelligence that Islamist extremists were plotting suicide bombings at churches.

On Easter morning, bombers struck three churches and three hotels, killing more than 350 people, in one world’s deadliest terrorist attacks in recent years.

Police officials said Thursday that they feared there were at least two people on the loose who had planned to be suicide bombers that day. The police said they had information that another attack was imminent, posted the suspects’ pictures on social media and urged anyone with information about the them to call a hotline.

The security services also circulated a memo saying that the group that carried out the Easter attacks could be “specifically targeting Sufi shrines.”

The authorities in Sri Lanka have blamed a local extremist Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, for the bombings, and images posted online appear to show members of the group pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The local group follows a fundamentalist form of Islam that believes Sufi Muslims, who adhere to a mystical school of Islam, are heretics.

The tragedy on Sunday could have been much worse had it not been for a miscalculation by the attackers, officials said. One bomber arrived at the Taj Samudra, another luxury hotel, carrying explosives in a large backpack, but twice failed to trigger the fuse on the device.

The bomber then left the hotel for a motel a few kilometers away, where he died in an explosion. Officials say he was probably trying to fix the bomb when it detonated.

Across Sri Lanka, Friday Prayer for Muslims and Sunday services for Roman Catholics have been canceled amid fears of large public gatherings. Tensions are rising, and in some areas, a violent backlash against the country’s Muslim minority has begun. The country’s devastating 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009, was fought along ethnic lines, not religious ones.

Agents from the F.B.I., the British intelligence service MI6, and Indian, Australian and Swiss security agencies have all joined the investigation into the attacks. Sri Lankan authorities said more than 70 people had been arrested.

But one Sri Lankan official grumbled that coordination between Sri Lanka’s various government agencies was hampering the investigation. Sri Lankan intelligence agencies were still refusing to share foreign intelligence reports with officials in other departments investigating the suicide attacks, the official said.

The Sri Lankan government is bitterly divided, which may have contributed to the security failures leading up to the bombings. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, a rival of President Maithripala Sirisena, has complained that he was not allowed to attend security meetings before the attacks and was never informed of the warnings.

Mr. Sirisena has tried to deflect intense criticism for the government’s failure to prevent the attacks, and on Wednesday called for he called for the resignations of Mr. Fernando, the defense secretary, and Pujith Jayasundara, the inspector general of the police.

Just a few months ago, the authorities arrested and then released several of the suicide bombers, and in January the police found a large cache of weapons, including explosives, assembled by radical Islamists who they say were probably were linked to National Thowheeth Jama’ath.

Indian intelligence officials began warning their Sri Lankan counterparts of a pending attack at least as early as April 4, officials have said. On April 11, a police official sent a memo to Sri Lankan security agencies, based on Indian intelligence reports, outlining in great detail the threat of suicide bombings at churches, with names, addresses and phone numbers of suspects. But many officials did not see the memo.

And just hours before the bombs detonated in packed churches and hotel restaurants, India warned that the attacks were imminent.

Lawmakers, survivors and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, are among those who have criticized the security services for failing to act.

Sri Lankan officials said on Thursday that they were having trouble identifying all of the suicide bombers through DNA tests, which would require comparison to samples taken from relatives, because the families of some of the bombers had fled their homes and were nowhere to be found.

With warnings of more attacks putting the entire capital on alert, many people stayed home. The Liberty Plaza mall, one of the city’s biggest, was deserted. Shop after shop was closed, and the few that were open stood empty. Roadblocks went up around the country.

Many people said they felt uneasy.

“I don’t know what to eat, I don’t know when to eat, my whole body is trembling,” said Indika Manamperi, the owner of two restaurants in the food court.

Mr. Manamperi said he used to be a major in the Sri Lankan Army and felt completely demoralized by the terror attacks.

“There was enough of a blood bath for the past 30 years and again our children have to face the same tune?” he said.

What really distressed him, he said, was Sri Lanka’s political dysfunction during such a painful crisis.

“I’m stressed because these Sri Lankan politicians don’t want to take responsibility,” he said. “It’s a pathetic state of affairs.”

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