Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary resigns following suicide bomb attacks

Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday, taking responsibility for what the government earlier termed “a major lapse” in intelligence on the Easter attacks that claimed over 350 lives.

Mr. Fernando is the first official to step down after both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said they were unaware of the imminent threat, though the security establishment had received prior intelligence. While President Sirisena on Tuesday promised to overhaul the country’s security structure, making key changes in 24 hours, the new Secretary is yet to be named.

Days after the deadly serial bombings gripped the island in shock and grief, police on Thursday conducted sudden checks in the city, including at prominent offices such as the Central Bank. Employees were asked not to leave the premises for about an hour in the morning and security forces conducted search operations based a warning of a potential explosion, sources said. However, barring a blast at at a vacant plot near the magistrate’s court in Pugoda town, 40 km away from Colombo, there were no other incidents.

It is unclear how much headway investigators have made in the probe, but late on Wednesday, security forces, using Emergency powers, nabbed 16 persons with possible links to the blasts. Over 60 suspects are already being interrogated. Colombo’s streets remained mostly empty on Thursday.

Authorities earlier named the National Thowheed Jamaath, a radical Islamist group here, as the perpetrators. Investigators have traced its 139 members and are probing their possible links with the Islamic State that has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Prayers cancelled

Meanwhile, mosques around the island have cancelled the Friday prayers amidst persisting tension and fear within the community. Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches have also decided to remain closed for “security reasons”. The Army, Navy and Air Force have deployed additional troops to the streets.

Following the attacks, Sri Lanka has suspended plans to grant visas on arrival to citizens of 39 countries. “Although arrangements were in place to issue visas on arrival for citizens of 39 countries, we have now decided to hold it for the time being considering the security situation,” Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said.