Sri Lanka’s leader said Thursday that suspects in Easter Sunday’s bombing attack that killed at least 359 people, including 30 foreigners, at churches and luxury hotels in the country were still at large and may be carrying explosives.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesing made the admission to The Associated Press as Sri Lankan security services issued a public appeal for three women and one man suspected of involvement in the Islamic State group-claimed attack.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombo urged people “to remain vigilant and avoid large crowds” especially at worship services for various faiths from Friday to Sunday.
The Rev. Niroshan Perera, a priest overseeing funerals of people killed in the Negombo blast at St. Sebastian’s church, said Catholic churches in the city, known as “Little Rome” for its many religious buildings, were all closed and had canceled Mass upon the advice of government security officials.
Perera said an official had warned him that police were still searching for two armed suspects. “Little bit, we are nervous,” he said.
In Colombo, the capital, John Keells Holdings, the parent company of the Cinnamon Grand hotel, one of the sites targeted in the Easter Sunday bombings, told employees at its various hotel properties to stay inside “further to the communications we have received” in an email shared with the AP.
Police identified the suspects as Mohamed Shahid Abdul Haq, Fathima Latheefa, Abdul Cader Fathima Kadia and Pulasthini Rajendran, who also had the alias Zara. All appeared to be in their 20s.
At least 58 people have been detained in connection with the bombings, among the world’s worst terrorist attacks since 9/11, in which almost 3,000 people died.
Investigators have confirmed that nine suicide bombers took part in the assaults. They are all linked to National Thowheed Jamath, a local Islamist movement, but Sri Lankan officials believe they have “some links” to the Islamic State group, or ISIS.
Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim, a wealthy spice trader in Sri Lanka and the father of two suspected Easter suicide bombers, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of helping his sons in the attacks. One of the brothers spent time studying in the United Kingdom, which warned its nationals against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka amid the ongoing security situation.
SOURCE: Doug Stanglin and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY