The Latest: Australia says Sri Lanka bombings had IS support

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The Latest on the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka (all times local):

8:35 p.m.

A military spokesman says soldiers have exchanged gunfire with suspects after attempting to raid a building in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province as part of the ongoing investigation into the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks.

Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said a gunbattle was underway in the coastal town of Sammanthurai, 325 kilometers (200 miles) from the capital, Colombo.

Officials say local militants with ties to the Islamic State group conducted a series of suicide bombings on Easter Sunday at churches and luxury hotels in and around Colombo and in the distant seaside village of Batticaloa. The health ministry says about 250 people were killed.

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Sri Lanka has remained on edge as authorities have pursued suspects with possible access to explosives.

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6 p.m.

Catholic priests have allowed journalists inside St. Anthony’s Church in Sri Lanka for the first time since it was targeted in a series of Islamic State-claimed suicide bombings that killed over 250 people.

Broken glass littered the sanctuary’s damaged pews and blood still stained the floor.

Shoes left by panicked worshippers remained in the darkened church, and broken bottles of holy water and flowers were strewn on the floor.

A suicide bomber struck St. Anthony’s during an Easter service last Sunday, in one of three attacks on churches.

The archbishop of Colombo says there will be no Sunday Masses until further notice after the bombings.

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5 p.m.

The archbishop of Colombo says there will be no Sunday Masses until further notice after the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith made the comment during a news conference Friday in the Sri Lankan capital.

Ranjith appealed for financial support to rebuild the lives of affected people and reconstruct the churches targeted in the Islamic State-claimed suicide bombings, which killed over 250 people on Sunday.

The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka has warned people to stay away from places of worship this weekend over concerns about possible further attacks.

Sri Lankan officials say they continue to search for suspects in the bombings.

On Friday, authorities urged Muslims not to hold congregational prayers over fears they might be targeted. However, several mosques did under the protection of security forces.

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3:50 p.m.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry is advising against nonessential travel to Colombo after the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in and near the Sri Lankan capital.

The updated travel advice issued Friday says there is in principle a danger of further attacks and advises visitors to exercise increased vigilance but stops short of an outright warning against travel to the capital or to Sri Lanka in general.

A German-U.S. dual national was killed in Sunday’s attacks. A total of 253 people died and more than 400 were wounded in the bombings blamed on Muslim militants.

The U.S., the U.K. and other countries have issued similar advisories.

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1:45 p.m.

An official Sri Lanka police Twitter account has been deleted after it misidentified an American human rights activist as a suspected Sri Lankan serial bomber, causing a social media furor.

The account, @SriLankaPolice2, was deleted on Friday.

Late Thursday, police posted the names and photos of three women and two men on Twitter that they said were at-large suspects in the Easter Sunday bombing attacks that killed more than 250 people.

One of the names was of Muslim U.S. activist Amara Majeed, who quickly tweeted that she had been falsely identified.

Sri Lankan police replied with an apology for the “inconvenience.”

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12:20 p.m.

Some mosques in Sri Lanka are holding communal Friday prayers despite the potential for attacks after the Easter suicide bombings.

At 12:10 p.m., the call to prayer echoed through the Masjidus Salam Jumma Masjid mosque in Colombo.

Police armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles stood guard outside.

The U.S. Embassy had warned Americans to stay away from all religious ceremonies this weekend over the attacks, which have been claimed by the Islamic State group.

Sri Lankan authorities had told Muslims to pray at home rather than attend communal Friday prayers that’s the most important of the week

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11:30 a.m.

Australia has warned travelers that “terrorists are likely to carry out further attacks in Sri Lanka.”

The government updated its travel advice website on Friday to say “attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.”

The warnings follow suicide bombings at churches and hotels on Easter that killed more than 250 people. Sri Lankan authorities say some suspects are still being sought.

Australia’s threat level remained unchanged, advising travelers to “reconsider your need to travel” to Sri Lanka, one tier below the highest warning of “do not travel.”

The U.S. Embassy has also warned Americans to avoid places of worship in Sri Lanka due to potential for more attacks, and Britain advised its citizens against traveling to the island country.

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10:55 a.m.

Sri Lankan authorities say the suspected leader of the Easter Sunday attacks that killed at least 250 people died in the Shangri-La Hotel bombing in Colombo.

Police said on an official Twitter account Friday that Mohamed Zahran died in the attack. He was the suspected leader of a local militant group known as National Towheed Jamaat, which officials say carried out the series of suicide bombings at hotels and churches.

Police also said they have arrested the group’s second-in-command.

They said the militants received some of their weapons training overseas.

Australia’s prime minister said earlier on Friday that it had been confirmed that the Sri Lanka attackers were supported by the Islamic State group.

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10:30 a.m.

Sri Lanka’s president has appealed to the island nation not to view its minority Muslim community as terrorists in the wake of Easter Sunday attacks that officials say were carried out by a local Muslim extremist group.

President Maithripala Sirisena spoke to Colombo-based reporters on Friday. He says Sri Lanka has the capability “to completely control ISIS activities” in the country, referring to the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 250 people.

Officials have acknowledged that some intelligence units were made aware of a plot to attack churches weeks in advance. Sirisena says he was kept in the dark and placed the blame squarely on Sri Lanka’s defense secretary and police chief.

He says the defense secretary had resigned but would stay on until a replacement could be named, and that the police chief would soon step down, too.

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7:10 a.m.

Australia’s prime minister says the Sri Lankan militants blamed for the Easter attacks in that country had support from the Islamic State group.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Friday that ties between the local group and Islamic State included identifying the targets of the attacks. Sunday’s attacks killing at least 253 people primarily struck three churches that were packed with Easter worshippers and three luxury hotels popular with foreigners.

Morrison said the attacks demonstrated a new front in fighting terrorism, that militants who fought in Syria and Iraq had returned home with skills to carry out attacks while being part of a broader network that could provide money, training and target identification.

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7 a.m.

Heavy security is out on the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital after warnings of further attacks by the militant group blamed for the Easter bombing that killed at least 250 people.

At St. Anthony’s Church, one of those struck in the attacks Sunday, there were more soldiers than normal Friday. Shops nearby remained closed.

Gration Fernando crossed himself when he looked at the church after walking out of his shop there. Fernando says he, like other Sri Lankans, was worried about further attacks.

He says there’s “no security, no safety to go to church.” He also says “now children are scared to go to church” as well.

Authorities told Muslims to pray at home rather than attend communal Friday prayers that’s the most important of the week.

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

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