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Lanka's Roman Catholic leader says Easter blasts 'insult to humanity'; holds special mass


Press Trust of India Colombo
The Archbishop of Colombo on Sunday condemned the Easter suicide bombings as "a great tragedy" and an "insult to humanity" at a special mass attended by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, marking a week since the country's worst terror attack killed 253 people.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the country's Roman Catholic leader, conducted the special private mass shown live on television after Sri Lanka's Catholic churches on Thursday suspended all public services until the security situation improves.
Tight security was provided in the vicinity with military standing by at the Archbishop's House, the Cardinal's official residence.
"It is our faith which has been challenged," the Cardinal said.
Nothing is more precious than the human lives, he said.
"God is the reflection of love and kindness, so how can someone kill in the name of God?" Cardinal Ranjith asked in a reference to the militants who claimed that the attacks were on behalf of the almighty.
As the country marked a week since the coordinated blasts hit three churches and three luxury hotels, killing 253 people and inuring over 500 others, police and security forces continued their hunt for members of the National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ), the local terror outfit behind the attack.
Meanwhile, the curfew in the Eastern province districts where the security forces had raided a hideout of NTJ, has been lifted for the first time since it came into force, the military said.
"We will arrest all of them and the operations will continue until then," said Brigadier Sumith Atapattu, the military spokesman said.
The police said that among the 15 people killed in the Eastern province hideout on Friday night were the two brothers and the father of Zahran Hashim, the leader of the NTJ who blew himself up at the Shangri La hotel in Colombo.
The arrest of his driver had led to the discovery of many vital information including on the case of the killing of two policemen last November. The weapons seized by the killers from the policemen were also recovered following the driver's leads, the police said.
The police said that two Muslim local politicians linked to the ruling United National Party (UNP) and the Opposition Sri Lanka People's Party have been arrested for possessing a large number of swords, suspected to be used for an attack in Colombo and the western coastal town of Negombo where one of the three church attacks took place on April 21.
A total of 106 suspects, including a Tamil medium teacher and a school principal, have been arrested in connection with the Easter Sunday blasts, the police said.
The Islamic State terror group, in a statement published early Sunday through the its propaganda 'Amaq' news agency, claimed the three militants who blew themselves up in the Eastern province were its members.
Security has been improved at hotels, schools and public places.
Nine suicide bombers carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels on the Easter Sunday, killing 253 people.
The Islamic State claimed the attacks, but the government has blamed local Islamist extremist group NTJ for the attacks.
Sri Lanka on Saturday banned the NTJ and a splinter group linked to the ISIS.
According to Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry, the number of foreign nationals who have been identified as killed remained at 40, including 11 from India.
Sri Lanka has a population of 21 million which is a patchwork of ethnicities and religions, dominated by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority.
Muslims account for 10 per cent of the population and are the second-largest minority after Hindus. Around seven per cent of Sri Lankans are Christians.

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First Published: Apr 28 2019 | 12:55 PM IST

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