COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s president has asked for the resignations of the defense secretary and the national police chief after security forces failed to act on warnings before Easter suicide bombings that killed at least 359 people.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s office said he asked for the resignations Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear who would replace them.
Sirisena said during a televised speech on Tuesday that he planned to change the head of the defense forces within 24 hours.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, which struck churches and hotels in the island nation. A Sri Lankan official has blamed breakaway members of two obscure local extremist Muslim groups.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Muslim civil society movements and associations 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 said authorities should also arrest those who aided and abetted the attackers through incitement, financing and other support.
It said neither the National Thawheed Jamaath nor those who carried out the attacks represent Islam or reflect Muslim beliefs. The statement said 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.
The U.S. ambassador said his country had “no prior knowledge” of a threat in Sri Lanka before the Easter bombings. Ambassador Alaina Teplitz made the remarks Wednesday to foreign journalists at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo.
Teplitz said there was a “right-sized” team of FBI agents and U.S. military officials assisting Sri Lanka in the investigation. Teplitz also said “clearly there was some failure in the system” for Sri Lanka before the Easter bombings.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she hasn’t received any official advice from Sri Lanka or seen any intelligence reports to corroborate claims from Sri Lanka’s government that the Easter attacks were in retaliation for the mosque massacres in Christchurch last month.
Ardern told reporters in Auckland that Sri Lanka is in the early stages of its investigation, and that New Zealand plans to stand back and allow it to proceed. She said she hadn’t been in direct contact with Sri Lanka, although officials from the two countries were in contact.
Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said the government had evidence the bombings were carried out by an Islamic fundamentalist group in retaliation for the March 15 mosque shootings in Christchurch that killed 50 people.