Foreigners, including several Pakistanis, were detained by the Sri Lankan authorities on Thursday as the country geared up for probe into the Easter Sunday bombings, which led to the 359 people being killed and 500 injured.
The foreigners were detained overnight without any hint of them being responsible directly. The responsibility for the attacks on three churches was claimed by the militant Islamic State.
Police on Thursday said that 16 more people were detained for questioning overnight, taking the number detained since Sunday to at least 76. That number includes a Syrian national. A police statement said one of those detained overnight was linked to a ‘terrorist organization’ but gave no other details.
It said another was taken into custody after they investigated posts on the individual’s Facebook page and found what they described as ‘hate speech’. “It was related to the spreading and preaching of terrorism,” a police spokesman said. Others have also been caught up in the broader crackdown.
Police said they detained an Egyptian who was found not to have a valid visa or passport. The man taught Arabic in a school about 70 km (45 miles) from the capital, Colombo, and had been living in Sri Lanka for more than seven years. A police spokesperson also said a group of Pakistanis had been detained among an unspecified number of foreign nationals for overstaying their visas.
The bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence. President Maithripala Sirisena met representatives of different faiths later on Thursday to address concerns of a sectarian backlash. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.
Hundreds of Muslims have fled the Negombo region on Sri Lanka’s west coast since scores of worshippers were killed in the bombing of the St Sebastian church there on Sunday. Communal tensions have since flared. Hundreds of Pakistanis fled the port city on Wednesday, crammed into buses organised by community leaders after threats of revenge. Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses,” Adnan Ali, a Pakistani, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus.