Sri Lankan immigration authorities revealed this week that nearly 50 foreigners without valid visas are among the hundreds deported by the South Asian island nation in the wake of the Islamic State (ISIS)-linked attack that primarily attacked Christians on Easter Sunday.
On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s News 1st learned from a spokesperson for the country’s Immigration and Emigration Department that “a total of 48 foreigners without valid visas have been deported” from the island nation.
“The media spokesperson added that further investigations are underway to arrest individuals without visas,” the Sri Lankan news outlet noted.
News 1st’s report came after Sri Lanka’s Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardena revealed on Sunday that immigration authorities had recently removed 200 Islamic clerics from the country over concerns that they could potentially radicalize locals.
According to the National from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the clerics are among “more than 600 foreign nationals” Sri Lanka is expected to deport in the wake of the Easter attacks for having expired visas.
It is unclear whether or not the 600 figure includes the 48 who were recently deported.
News 1st cited Gayan Milinda, a spokesperson for Sri Lanka’s immigration authorities, as noting that a total of “108 foreigners who overstayed their welcome were arrested,” including the 48 who were subsequently deported.
As far as the nationality of the deportees, Milinda only said eight of 13 foreigners arrested in the past week are Pakistani nationals.
Marking one of the deadliest jihadi assaults on Easter, ISIS-linked terrorists affiliated with the local jihadi outfit National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) primarily targeted three Christian churches and four hotels across Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, killing more than 350 and wounding about 500 others, including Americans.
Many of the victims who died succumbed to their wounds after the attack.
While it does not deny that its founder Mohammed Zahran Hashim and some former members of the group planned and carried out the attack, NTJ argues that it is not a terrorist group, claiming that it dismissed the group’s founding father in 2017.
“This is not a terrorist movement. It is an organization under Sri Lankan sovereignty. National Thowheed Jamath does religious and social services,” Mohamed Yusef Thaufeek, the group’s current leader, told VICE News.
He stressed that NTJ dismissed the group’s founder, who pledged allegiance to ISIS in December 2017.
“We were not involved with him. It’s because we were with him at one point that we are constantly being harassed,” he complained. “But we can’t stop the government from making whatever decision they decide to make.”
VICE News outlet quoted Hilmy Ahmed, the vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, as also complaining that the wave of Islamic terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday has left them vulnerable to “repercussions.”
“As somebody who has been working with the Muslim community, we fear the repercussions of this, and we’re not sure if they will fade away easily,” Ahmed declared. “The bridge-building will have to take place immediately, and probably it will take years to get back.”
Sri Lanka has reportedly deployed nearly 10,000 soldiers across the Indian Ocean island nation to carry out random searches and provide security for religious centers, including mosques.
Early this week, authorities arrested a person for attempting to pay a bribe of Rs 500,000 (nearly $3,000) to bail out NTJ member Abdul Majeed Mohamed Niyaz, currently in custody in connection to the wave of Easter Sunday suicide attacks, Sri Lanka’s Ada Derana news outlet revealed.
Sri Lanka continues to crack down on suspected Islamic terrorists this week, seizing locally manufactured weapons and explosives and extremist propaganda material on Monday.
Authorities also arrested a suspect “with 15 cassette tapes containing extremist lectures,” Ada Derana reported.
The South Asian island nation has also beefed up security across the country, deploying K9 units capable of finding explosives to railway stations.
Dilantha Fernando, Sri Lanka’s Department of Railway chief, indicated “that the Civil Defense Force has also been deployed to beef up security at railway stations across the country. All the trains will be subjected to random inspections,” News 1st found.