Sri Lanka deployed thousands of security forces on Friday to protect mosques and other worshipping centers across the island nation against potential retaliatory violence in the wake of the jihadi suicide bombings against Christians on Easter Sunday.
President Maithripala Sirisena granted the military sweeping police powers after the bombings.
The deployment of security forces to protect mosques and other religious centers came after the country’s now-deposed defense minister, Hemasiri Fernando, reportedly claimed it would have been “impossible” to protect the Christians targeted by the jihadis despite receiving prior intelligence about the attacks.
“It was quite impossible to protect a large number of churches last Sunday despite receiving prior information about these attacks,” Fernando told reporters, referring to the assault that primarily targeted Christians at churches and luxury hotels, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported this week.
The jihadis, allegedly on behalf of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), targeted three churches and four hotels, killing more than 350 and wounding about 500 others, including Americans.
Fernando “said that the government did not expect an attack of such magnitude to occur and the extensive measures to prevent the bombings would have been impossible,” PTI reported.
“An emergency law is non-functional in this country since Sri Lanka is a democratic country. Therefore, there is very little I can do,” the defense secretary proclaimed.
On Wednesday, Sirisena urged the defense minister and the country’s police chief to quit for withholding and failing to act on intelligence about potential terrorist attacks that came to them before the Easter Sunday carnage.
Fernando resigned the following day, the Colombo Telegraph noted.
Without explicitly identifying anyone, Lakshman Kiriella, a top Sri Lankan lawmaker, revealed, “Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully. Information was there, but the top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions.”
The Sri Lankan government has deployed “nearly 10,000 soldiers” across the Indian Ocean island nation “to carry out searches and provide security for religious centers,” including mosques, Reuters reported.
“Fears of retaliatory sectarian violence have already caused Muslim communities to flee their homes amid bomb scares, lockdowns, and security sweeps,” it added.
In the wake of the attacks, “the military was given a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects, powers that were used during the civil war but withdrawn when it ended,” PTI noted.
Authorities have reportedly arrested 60 people in connection to the attack.
Local authorities are reportedly investigating ISIS’s claim of responsibility to find out to what extent the international terrorist group aided the local jihadis who carried out the attacks.
Sri Lankan officials have cautioned of more bomb attacks by ISIS. Nevertheless, hundreds of Muslims reportedly defied government warnings and decided to attend Friday prayers.
The Easter Sunday suicide bombings marked one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in modern history and the worst violence in Sri Lanka since its civil war ended a decade ago.
Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka also houses a significant Hindu, Christian, and Muslim minority.
Sirisena urged calm among the different religious groups, telling them not to mistrust the entire Muslim community, the Daily News reported.
“Don’t have feelings of hate towards the Muslims in general because of the brutal acts by few extremists…They [Muslims] all condemn the heinous attacks,” he told reporters.
In the same breath, the president vowed to check for potential terrorists in every house in the country.
“The State of Emergency allows us to do so. The accurate information on occupants in each and every house will be recorded,” Sirisena declared, pledging to thwart the activities of Islamic extremists in the country.