Sri Lankan army probes possible additional extremist groups

Sri Lankan army commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake gestures as he arrives for a media briefing in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, May 16, 2019. Sri Lanka’s army chief says other groups of Islamic extremists could be operating in the country independent of the one that carried out Easter Sunday bomb attacks. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's army chief said Thursday that other groups of Islamic extremists could be operating in the country independent of the one that carried out Easter Sunday bomb attacks.

"There could be other groups, definitely," Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake said.

"To what extent are they offensive, what is the equipment they carry, what is the time frame, who are their handlers, these are all matters under discussion," he told reporters.

More than 250 people were killed in coordinated suicide bomb attacks at three churches and three tourist hotels on Easter Sunday that were claimed by the Islamic State group and carried out by a local radicalized Muslim group.

Seven suicide bombers blew themselves up at their targets and another killed himself and two guests at a motel after his device failed to explode at a fourth tourist hotel. A ninth suicide bomber killed herself and her children as police surrounded her home.

Senanayake said the military is developing a two-year plan to eliminate the new terrorist threat.

The attacks took place a month before the 10th anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war between government forces and separatist ethnic Tamil rebels.

Senanayake said the army has organized a series of events to mark the anniversary. People have been asked to light an oil lamp in their homes and offices in honor the fallen soldiers.

Senanayake said the military will not interfere with Tamil civilians remembering their dead relatives in areas where the final battle took place in 2009.

Sri Lanka's military has been accused of deliberately targeting civilians and using disproportionate force that killed thousands of civilians in the final months of fighting.

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