Mon, May 13, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lanka holds first Mass since attacks

SAFETY MEASURES:Armed soldiers and police patrolled the streets leading to churches and stood guard outside the gates, while volunteers looked for suspicious people

AP and Reuters, COLOMBO and KATTANKUDY, Sri Lanka

People pray during Mass at St Theresa’s Church in Colombo yesterday.

Photo: AFP

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka yesterday held the first regular Sunday Mass since Easter suicide bombings targeting churches and hotels killed more than 250 people last month.

Soldiers and police armed with assault rifles patrolled the streets leading to churches and stood guard outside the compounds. Everyone entering was required to produce identity cards and was searched.

Volunteers were stationed at the gates of churches to identify parishioners and look for suspicious individuals.

Parking was banned near the churches and officials requested worshipers to bring along only minimum baggage.

Seven suicide bombers struck two Catholic and one Protestant churches and three luxury hotels on Easter Sunday.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, carried out by a local radicalized Muslim group.

Sunday services were canceled in the two subsequent weekends for fear of more attacks, leaving the faithful to hear Mass via live TV transmission from the Colombo residence of Sri Lankan Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith.

Church authorities are also mulling reopening church-run schools tomorrow if they can be satisfied with security.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena last week told reporters that “99 percent” of the suspects in the Easter attacks had been arrested and their explosive materials seized, and it was safe for tourists to return to the Indian Ocean nation.

Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a Saudi Arabia-educated scholar for alleged links with Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the bombings, throwing a spotlight on the rising influence of Salafi-Wahhabi Islam on the nation’s Muslims.

Mohamed Aliyar, 60, is the founder of the Center for Islamic Guidance, which boasts a mosque, a religious school and a library in Zahran’s hometown of Kattankudy, a Muslim-majority city on Sri Lanka’s eastern shore.

“Information has been revealed that the suspect arrested had a close relationship with ... Zahran and had been operating financial transactions,” a police statement said late on Friday.

Aliyar was “involved” with training in the southern town of Hambantota for the group of suicide bombers, it said.

A police spokesman declined to provide details on the accusations.

The Sri Lankan government says that Zahran, a Tamil-speaking preacher, was a leader of the group. He was killed in the bombings.

Two Muslim community sources in Kattankudy told reporters that his hard-line views were partly shaped by ultra-conservative Salafi-Wahhabi texts that he picked up at the center’s library about two to three years ago.

“I used to always run into him at the center, reading Saudi journals and literature,” one of them said.

During that time, Zahran started criticizing the practice of asking God for help, for instance, saying that such pleas were an affront to pure Islam.

“That kind of teaching was not in Sri Lanka in 2016, unless you read it in Salafi literature,” the source added, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions in Kattankudy.

Other than the fact that Zahran visited the center, the sources in Kattankudy said they did not know of any personal ties between him and Aliyar.

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