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Dozens of bomb detonators found as Sri Lanka declares state of emergency

Authorities declared a state of emergency on Monday [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 April, 2019

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Police said they had found 87 bomb detonators at a Colombo bus station as authorities declared a state of emergency on Monday, following a string of deadly attacks.
Sri Lanka police said they had found 87 bomb detonators at a Colombo bus station, a day after a string of attacks on churches and hotels that killed nearly 300 people.

A statement said police found the detonators at the Bastian Mawatha Private bus stand, 12 of them scattered on the ground and another 75 in a garbage dump nearby.

It came after the toll in a series of eight blasts targeting mostly churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Sunday has increased to 290, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said on Monday, as authorities declared a state of emergency. 

More than 500 people were wounded in the blasts, he added, in the deadliest violence since the end of the country's long-running civil war a decade ago.

Sri Lankan authorities ordered a state of emergency to be introduced from midnight on Monday following the deadly Easter attacks, the president's office said.

The special measures are being brought in "to allow the police and the three forces to ensure public security", the statement said, referring to the army, navy and air force.

Earlier in the day, the Sri Lankan government said a local Islamist extremist group called the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) was believed to be behind the deadly suicide bomb attacks, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said.

Senaratne, who is also a cabinet minister, added that the government was investigating whether the group had "international support".

"We don't see that only a small organisation in this country can do all that," he said.

"We are now investigating the international support for them, and their other links, how they produced the suicide bombers here, and how they produced bombs like this."

Documents seen by AFP show Sri Lanka's police chief issued a warning on 11 April, saying that a "foreign intelligence agency" had reported NTJ was planning attacks on churches and the Indian high commission.

Not much is known about the NTJ, a radical Muslim group that his been linked to the vandalising of Buddhist statues.

A police source told AFP that all 24 people in custody in connection with the attacks belong to an "extremist" group, but did not specify further.

Security has been ramped up across Sri Lanka as security forces hunt for suspects, with 24 people arrested so far. Wary of sparking ethnic and religious tensions, the government has given few details about those detained.

The attacks were the worst ever carried out against Sri Lanka's small Christian minority, who make up just seven percent of the 21 million population.

At least 37 foreigners were among the dead, citizens of India, the UK, Turkey, Australia, Japan and Portugal, as well as a dual US-British passport holder.

'Maximum punishment'

The churches targeted included St Sebastian's in Negombo, north of the capital, which was surrounded by security forces on Monday.

On Monday, top Muslim leaders in Sri Lanka demanded "maximum punishment" for the perpetrators of suicide bomb attacks on Christian churches and luxury hotels .

"We urge the government to provide security to all religious sites and to give maximum punishment to everyone involved in these dastardly acts," said the All Ceylon Jamiyyathuul Ulama, or council of Muslim theologians.

"On behalf of the Sri Lankan Muslim community we offer our condolences to the people of Christian faith and extend our hands of friendship in solidarity."

The top theologians added in a statement that they had met the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith following the attacks on three churches celebrating Easter mass.

The National Shoora Council, a group of 18 Muslim organisations also expressed condolences and said the government must not "leave any stone unturned in its efforts to apprehend the culprits whoever they may be and to whatever part of the populace they may belong to".

Ethnic and religious violence has plagued Sri Lanka for decades, with a 37-year conflict with Tamil rebels followed by an upswing in recent years in clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslims.

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