Sri Lanka Catholics to resume mass two weeks after attacks

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith

Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church said public masses will resume Sunday under tight security, two weeks after Easter bombings claimed by the Islamic State group killed 253 people at three churches and three luxury hotels.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said the Church was closely monitoring investigations into the April 21 suicide attacks and wanted to be sure of the security situation before returning to daily services.

“On the 5th of May we are going to begin (Sunday) masses,” he told AFP on Tuesday.

“But we will start with a smaller number of masses and see if we can slowly increase it depending on how the situation develops.”

The cardinal, who is also Archbishop of Colombo, conducted a private memorial mass that was broadcast live on television last Sunday after cancelling all public services amid fears of a repeat of the attacks.

Armed guards and an armoured personnel carrier have been placed outside his Colombo residence as part of his security arrangements.

But he said he has returned a bullet-proof limousine provided by the government and instead travelled in an ordinary car.

“I am not afraid. I don’t need bullet-proof vehicles to go about. The Lord is my protector,” he said. “But, I want security for my people, and for the country.”

He said he had concerns about the progress of security operations against jihadists behind the worst single-day attack against civilians in the country’s history.

“There should be tougher laws to deal with those responsible for the attacks,” the cardinal said.

“We don’t know the progress of the investigations. We are told that they have good information from suspects in custody, but I am not sure if they have the capacity to follow up.”

He said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe telephoned him on Tuesday morning to assure him that search operations were being conducted and that there was no let-up.

150 suspects

Police say they have arrested over 150 suspects and have accounted for all six suspects who were declared as most-wanted on a list issued following the attacks.

Two suspects have been killed while the other four were in custody, police said.

President Maithripala Sirisena said Friday that the authorities believed there were 140 Islamic State-inspired jihadists in Sri Lanka and he had security forces to track them down.

The Easter attacks were blamed on the local National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) whose leader was among the suicide bombers.

Sri Lanka’s schools remain closed and all political parties have cancelled their May Day rallies for Wednesday because of security concerns.

Cardinal Ranjith on Sunday said he feared investigations could end up being a “flop” and Catholics were not confident that perpetrators will be brought to justice given the country’s history of impunity.

He has also repeatedly criticised the authorities for failing to share intelligence reports that had warned of an impending jihadist attack against Christians ahead of the assaults, saying he felt “betrayed” by the government.

“If they warned me, I would have cancelled the Easter services,” he said Sunday at his privately televised mass.