COLOMBO • Five Sri Lankans suspected of having links to the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people were brought home in police custody yesterday after being deported from Saudi Arabia, police said.
Police declined to provide details of the arrests beyond saying the five were picked up in a Middle Eastern country and were sent back, in the custody of Sri Lankan police, from the Saudi city of Jeddah.
"These are the five remaining leaders of the April 21 terrorist group," police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters.
The coordinated Islamist militant suicide bomb attacks on hotels and churches sent shock waves through the Indian Ocean island state that had enjoyed relative peace since a civil war ended a decade ago.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the attacks that the authorities said were carried out by two little-known domestic groups - the National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim.
Police declined to give information about the nature of the five suspects' roles in the attacks but said one of them, identified as Mohamed Milhan, was a senior member of the NTJ.
Milhan was also wanted in connection with the November killing of two police constables in the east of the island, where NTJ leader Zahran Hashim had his base. Hashim was one of two suicide bombers who attacked the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.
"He could have been the next leader," Mr Gunasekera said of Milhan.
This is the second time suspects have been arrested abroad in connection with the attacks.
Last month, army chief Mahesh Senanayake said two suspects were arrested in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Official sources said they were Sri Lankans.
The authorities have arrested more than 2,000 people in connection with the attacks. While courts have released most of them on bail, 634 remain in detention.
Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency since the attacks. There have been recriminations over the failure on the part of security forces to act on advance warnings of the impending attacks.
The authorities say the threat of more attacks has been contained and the security services have dismantled most of the network linked to the bombings.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE