Police say the death toll in the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said on Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58.
Gunasekera said the suspects were held in a search operation carried out by police and security forces using emergency powers introduced since Sunday’s attacks which left more than 359 dead.
“Based on information, we raided three locations and arrested 17 suspects,” Gunasekera said. “Another suspect was arrested at a fourth location.”
Gunasekera said the raids were part of security operations to track down any individuals linked to suicide bombing strike against three churches, three hotels and other sites. The Sri Lankan government has blamed a local Islamist group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), for the attacks.
Another top government official said the suicide bombings were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacre last month.
The Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large. “There are a few more people on the run,” Wickremesinghe said. “So we’ve got to apprehend them.”
The ISIS extremist group has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks and released images that purported to show the attackers. The Prime Minister said that investigators were still determining the extent of the bombers’ foreign links.
In addition to arming security forces with powers to detain suspects for up to three months, the authorities have also imposed a night-time curfew since Sunday’s deadly attacks.
Sri Lanka Muslim groups denounce attackers
Sri Lanka’s Muslim civil society movements and associations have called upon authorities to immediately arrest and punish the perpetrators of Sunday Easter bombings that killed more than 350 people, saying extremism in the name of Islam does not represent the religion.
A joint statement says authorities should also apprehend those who aided and abetted the attackers through incitement, financing and other support.
It says neither the National Thawheed Jamaath nor those who carried out the attacks represent Islam or reflect Muslim beliefs. The statement says they have misused and abused Islam in order to fit their own radical and anti-Islamic agenda, and are criminals.
The signatories include All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, the Muslim Council, Jama'athe Islami, the Memon Association of Sri Lanka and Anjuman-E Saifi.