COLOMBO • Churches across Sri Lanka suspended Sunday mass and the Archbishop of Colombo delivered a televised special sermon from a chapel at his home as fears of attacks remained over a week after suicide bombers killed more than 250 in churches and hotels.
Sri Lanka has been on high alert since the attacks on Easter Sunday, with nearly 10,000 soldiers deployed across the island to carry out searches and hunt down members of two local Islamist groups believed to have carried out the attacks.
The government has said the attacks were carried out by nine well-educated Sri Lankans, eight of whom have been identified.
The authorities have detained more than 100 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, since the bombings in three churches and four hotels, most of which were in the capital.
The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, held a solemn special mass from a church adjacent to his house that was broadcast live across local television and radio.
"We cannot kill someone in the name of God... It is a great tragedy that happened," the archbishop said in his sermon, attended by President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"We extend our hand of friendship and fraternity to all our brothers and sisters of whatever class, society or religion that differentiates us," he said.
After the sermon, the archbishop and the political leaders lit candles to commemorate the victims of the suicide bombings.
Most of the victims were Sri Lankans. Among the dead were 40 foreigners.
Mr Wickremesinghe said yesterday that Sri Lankan forces have killed or arrested most of the radical Islamists linked to the Easter suicide bombings and the country was ready to return to normality.
The bombings that left 253 dead were carried out by a "small, but a well organised group", Mr Wickremesinghe said in a statement. "Most of them have been arrested. Some have died. Now we are able to return to normality."
He also said the government has planned tougher laws to deal with Islamist extremists and that foreign clerics teaching in Sri Lanka illegally will be expelled.
The authorities have so far focused their investigations on international links to two domestic groups they believe carried out the attacks, National Thowheeth Jama'ath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.
But the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombings without providing any evidence, and on Saturday, it issued a new claim for a gunbattle that erupted on Sri Lanka's east coast last Friday during a raid by security forces on a safe house.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE