Sri Lankan police looking for 140 with ISIS links, says President Sirisena

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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said on Friday police are looking for 140 people believed to have links with the ISIS extremist group over the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels that killed at least 253 people.

The president appealed to the island nation not to view its minority Muslim community as terrorists in the wake of the attacks that officials said was carried out by a local Muslim extremist group.

President Sirisena spoke to Colombo-based reporters on Friday. He said Sri Lanka had the capability “to completely control ISIS activities” in the country, which hasd claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Sirisena told reporters some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with the extremist group since 2013, and that top defense and police chiefs had not shared information with him about the impending attacks.

Sri Lanka's top police official, Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, has resigned over failures that led to the deadly Easter bomb attacks, the president said.

“The IGP has resigned. He has sent his resignation to the acting defense secretary. I’ll nominate a new IGP soon,” President Sirisena told reporters.

Sirisena's nominee has to be confirmed by a constitutional council.

The resignation comes after the country's top defense ministry official, defense secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday.

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

He said the defense secretary who had resigned would stay on until a replacement could be named.

He also blamed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government for weakening the intelligence system by focusing on the prosecution of military officers over alleged war crimes during a decade-long civil war with Tamil separatists.

An Islamic extremist believed to have played a key role in Sri Lanka’s deadly Easter bombings died in an attack on a Colombo hotel, the president confirmed on Friday.

“What intelligence agencies have told me is that Zahran was killed during the Shangri-La attack,” President Sirisena told reporters, referring to Zahran Hashim, leader of a local extremist group.

Hashim appeared in a video released by the ISIS after they claimed the bombings, but his whereabouts after the blasts was not immediately clear.

Sirisena did not immediately clarify what Hashim’s role was in the attack on the Shangri-La, one of six bomb blasts on Sunday.

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