The Latest: Sri Lanka revises down death toll from attack
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The Latest on the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka (all times local):
Sri Lankan authorities say the death toll from the Easter Sunday suicide attacks is lower than previously stated and now stands at “approximately” 253 people.
Top health ministry official Dr. Anil Jasinghe said in a statement late Thursday that the explosions had damaged some bodies beyond recognition, making positive identification difficult.
On Wednesday, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara had said the death toll was 359 people.
Officials did not immediately explain the discrepancy.
Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that 40 foreigners had died.
The world’s tallest building is showing the Sri Lankan flag in remembrance of the victims of the Easter suicide bombings.
The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is displaying the flag on the LED display running up the side of the 828-meter (2,715-foot) building.
Many expatriate workers in Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates come from Asia.
The British government is warning its citizens against traveling to Sri Lanka, amid an intense security operation after bomb attacks on churches and hotels.
The Foreign Office on Thursday advised against all but essential travel to the country, saying it’s unclear how great a threat there is of further attacks.
Eight Britons were among more than 350 people killed when suicide bombers attacked on Easter Sunday.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he hopes the advice could be changed “when the current security operation has concluded.”
Hunt said “we all hope the situation will return to normal very soon, and that the Sri Lankan tourism industry is able to get back on its feet following the terrorist attacks.”
The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka also warned that people should avoid places of worship over the weekend because of possible attacks.
The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka has tweeted a warning that people should avoid places of worship in the island nation over the weekend because of possible extremist attacks.
The embassy in Colombo sent the tweet Thursday night after security was stepped up in the capital city and elsewhere in the country.
The tweet read: “Sri Lankan authorities are reporting that additional attacks may occur targeting places of worship. Avoid these areas over the weekend, starting tomorrow, April 26th through Sunday, April 28th. Continue to remain vigilant and avoid large crowds.”
Police on Thursday appealed to the public for information about three women and one man suspected of involvement in the Easter suicide attacks that killed over 350 people.
The office of Sri Lanka’s president says the country’s defense secretary has resigned following a failure of security forces to stop the Islamic State-claimed suicide bombings on Easter that killed over 350 people.
The office issued a statement Thursday saying that Hemasiri Fernando would continue to serve until his replacement has been appointed.
President Maithripala Sirisena had announced on television Tuesday that he planned to shake up the security forces. On Wednesday, he asked for the resignations of both the defense secretary and the national police chief.
Government leaders have acknowledged that some intelligence units were aware of possible attacks weeks before the bombings Sunday that struck three churches and three luxury hotels.
Sirisena said he had been kept in the dark on intelligence about the planned attacks and vowed to “take stern action” against officials who failed to share it.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister has acknowledged to The Associated Press that minority Ahmadi Muslims who are refugees from Pakistan have faced attacks since the Easter bombings.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Thursday that security forces were trying to help the Ahmadis.
Wickremesinghe said that some people “had become suspicious of foreigners, not of Muslims per se. . In the heat of the moment, a few have been attacked.”
Sunday’s Islamic State-claimed suicide bombings killed over 350 people.
On Thursday, Ahmadis described to the AP how they have faced violence in the time since. About 500 have fled their homes in Negombo and are living some 30 kilometers (20 miles) away under police protection. Others live under police and military protection at the Ahmadi mosque in Negombo.
Police in Sri Lanka have issued an appeal for information about three women and one man suspected of involvement in the Easter suicide bombings that killed over 350 people.
Police made the appeal Thursday over Sri Lankan media.
They released pictures of the four. All appeared to be in their 20s.
Police did not elaborate on how the four may have been involved. However, police and soldiers tightened security across Colombo and elsewhere Thursday as fears of another attack continued.
They identified the suspects as Mohamed Shahid Abdul Haq, Fathima Latheefa, Abdul Cader Fathima Kadia and Pulasthini Rajendran, who also had the alias Zara.
Pakistan’s minority Christians have gathered at a church in the Islamabad amid tight security to pay their respects to the victims of Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in which more than 350 people were killed.
It was the first such gathering since Sunday, when suicide bombers attacked churches, hotels and other sites in Sri Lanka.
The participants at Thursday’s special service lit candles and observed a minute of silence to remember the victims of the attacks.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoy close relations and Pakistan helped train Sri Lankan army officers in their civil war battle against Tamil rebels.
Sri Lanka’s former navy chief says the father of two of the Easter suicide bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.
Jayanath Colombage, who now is a counter-terrorism expert at the Pathfinder Foundation, confirmed the arrest to The Associated Press on Thursday.
Sri Lankan police could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sunday’s coordinated suicide bombings targeted three churches and three hotels, killing at least 359 people and wounding 500 more. Authorities have blamed a local group, National Towheed Jamaat, for the attack. The group was previously only known for vandalizing Buddhist statues and for the extremist online sermons of its leader, alternately named Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi.
On Tuesday, the Islamic State group asserted it carried out the assault, bolstering its claim by publishing images of Zahran and others pledging loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Businesses in Colombo are advising staff to stay indoors until 2 p.m. because of a possible security threat and an ongoing search operation in the capital.
John Keells Holdings, the parent company of the Cinnamon Grand hotel, one of the sites stricken in the Easter Sunday bombings, sent an email to its staff on Thursday about the unspecified threat.
It was not immediately clear where the warning originated. A police spokesman was not available for comment.
A series of coordinated suicide bombings at churches and hotels in and around Colombo killed 359 people on Sunday. Police say a local extremist group was behind the attack.
Australia’s prime minister said one of the suicide bombers in the Sri Lanka Easter attacks had been in Australia years earlier.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the person had been in Australia on a student and a graduate skilled visa with a spouse and child visa as well. The individual left in early 2013.
Morrison told reporters Thursday the person’s Australian link was part of an ongoing investigation and wouldn’t comment further.
Separately, a British security official has confirmed one of the bombers was believed to have studied in the U.K. between 2006 and 2007. The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation, said British intelligence was not watching Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed during his stay in the country. His name was first reported by Sky News.
— Associated Press journalist Greg Katz in London contributed to this report.
Sri Lanka has banned drones and unmanned aircraft as authorities continue controlled detonations of suspicious items four days after a series of suicide bombing attacks killed more than 350 people in and around the capital of Colombo.
Sri Lanka’s civil aviation authority said Thursday that it was taking the measure “in view of the existing security situation in the country.”
Hobby drones have been used by militants in the past to carry explosives.
Iraqi forces learned that they are difficult to shoot down while driving out the Islamic State group from northern Iraq, where the extremists loaded drones with grenades or simple explosives to target their forces.
Also Thursday Sri Lankan authorities detonated a suspicious item in a garbage dump in Pugoda, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Colombo.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed one Japanese national was killed and four others injured in the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka.
The body of the person who died was returned to Japan early Thursday.
Officials at Narita airport near Tokyo lowered their heads as the coffin, covered with blue tarp and a bouquet of white flowers on top, came out of the plane.
Japanese media have identified the victim as 39-year-old Kaori Takahashi. The reports say she was having breakfast with her family at the Shangri-La hotel when she was killed and that her husband and a daughter were injured in the attack.
The Foreign Ministry has not released the identities of the dead and injured.
Sri Lankan police have said at least 359 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in Sunday’s bombings, which mainly targeted churches and hotels. Most of the victims were Sri Lankan but more than 30 of the dead were foreigners.