ICMD, April 25, 2019
Sri Lankan authorities swept up more people, including foreigners, for questioning on Thursday as they probed deeper into the Easter Sunday bombings, which killed 359 people in potentially the deadliest operation claimed by the militant Islamic State.
Police said an Egyptian and several Pakistanis were among those detained overnight, although there was no immediate suggestion they had direct links to the attacks on three churches and four hotels that also wounded about 500 people.
More people detained
Police on Thursday said 16 more people were detained for questioning overnight, taking the number detained since Sunday to at least 76. That number includes a Syrian national.
A police statement said one of those detained overnight was linked to a "terrorist organization" but gave no other details.
It said another was taken into custody after they investigated posts on the individual's Facebook page and found what they described as "hate speech".
"It was related to the spreading and preaching of terrorism," a police spokesman said.
Others have also been caught up in the broader crackdown.
Police said they detained an Egyptian who was found not to have a valid visa or passport. The man taught Arabic in a school about 70 km (45 miles) from the capital, Colombo, and had been living in Sri Lanka for more than seven years.
A police spokesman also said that a group of Pakistanis had been detained among an unspecified number of foreign nationals for overstaying their visas.
The bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.
President Maithripala Sirisena will meet representatives of different faiths later on Thursday to address concerns of a sectarian backlash.
Sri Lanka's 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island's conflict and communal tensions.
Hundreds of Muslims have fled the Negombo region on Sri Lanka's west coast since scores of worshippers were killed in the bombing of the St. Sebastian church there on Sunday. Communal tensions have since flared.
Hundreds of Pakistanis fled the port city on Wednesday, crammed into buses organised by community leaders after threats of revenge.
"Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses," Adnan Ali, a Pakistani, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus.
Sri Lankan officials have said they believed the bombings were carried out in retaliation for the March 15 attacks by a lone gunman on two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she has seen no evidence to support that claim.
Most of the Easter Sunday victims were Sri Lankans, although authorities have confirmed at least 38 foreigners were also killed. These included British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.
FO rejects 'irresponsible comments' by section of Indian media
In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Foreign Office (FO) rejected "irresponsible comments" in a section of the Indian media about the detention of some Pakistanis in Sri Lanka.
As per the press release, the spokesperson had characterised the attempts of a section of the Indian media to link the detention of some Pakistani's in Sri Lanka with the recent events there as "completely irresponsible".
The spokesperson had added that as per the information shared by Sri Lankan officials, seven Pakistanis were recently detained by law enforcement authorities on account of overstaying their visas.
"This is a purely consular matter and projecting it in any other manner is patently mischievous," the spokesperson was quoted in the FO press release.
According to the press release, the spokesperson had added that "such attempts by elements in the Indian media were reflective of a particular, though familiar, mindset bent on twisting facts to malign Pakistan on any pretext."
Additionally, he drew attention to the Sri Lankan leadership's call to avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation.