U.S. Envoy to Sri Lanka: Threat Is Real; Security Forces Maintain High Alert

COLOMBO (Reuters) -
Security officers guard the road to the president’s house in Colombo, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on April 22. (Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

The U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka said on Tuesday that some of the Islamist terrorists behind last Sunday’s bombings that killed more than 250 people were likely still at large and could be planning more attacks.

Sri Lankan security forces also said they were maintaining a high level of alert amid intelligence reports that the terrorists were likely to strike before the beginning of the Islamic month of Ramadan, which is due to begin next Monday.

“Tremendous progress has been made towards apprehending those plotters but I don’t think the story is over yet,” Ambassador Alaina Teplitz said in an interview.

“We do believe that there is active planning under way,” she said, referring to the possibility of more attacks.

Scores of suspected Islamists have been arrested in the multi-ethnic island nation since April 21 suicide bomb attacks on hotels and churches. Among the dead were 42 foreign nationals.

“Security will stay tight for several days because military and police are still tracking down suspects,” a senior police intelligence official said.

Another government source told Reuters security authorities had ordered police and other security forces across the Buddhist-majority country to remain on high alert because the terrorists were expected to try to strike before Ramadan.

Teplitz told Reuters the risk of more attacks remained real.

“We certainly have reason to believe that the active attack group has not been fully rendered inactive,” she said.

The FBI is assisting Sri Lankan authorities in the investigations but Teplitz declined to give more details.

The State Department has issued a travel advisory suggesting people reconsider plans to travel to Sri Lanka.