After Terror Attacks, Sri Lanka Bans Female Face Coverings
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Sri Lanka is still on edge over the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed at least 250 people last week. The country is banning women from wearing face coverings under an emergency law that goes into effect today. And this move comes after ISIS claimed three militants blew themselves up during a raid on Friday. Fifteen people, including six children, were killed in the clash with Sri Lankan security forces. And police and the military are continuing their search for more suspected militants amid fears of more attacks.
NPR's Michael Sullivan has the latest from Colombo.
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UNIDENTIFIED CHURCH CHOIR: (Singing) Hallelujah, hallelujah.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Catholic churches across the island were closed on Sunday after warnings of more possible attacks. So most of the Catholic minority watched on live TV as the archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith delivered a sermon from a small chapel at his residence.
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MALCOLM RANJITH: It is a great tragedy that happened. It's an insult to humanity. And above all, in the name of God, God who is love, mercy.
SULLIVAN: In an unusual show of unity, the country's president and prime minister attended the mass, as well. Their bitter personal rivalry and the political dysfunction it's helped create have been blamed in part for the authorities' failure to act on intelligence warning of possible terrorist attacks, including one report that came less than two weeks before the bombings occurred. And that's got lots of ordinary Sri Lankans angry.
JOHN ISON FERNANDO: They are careless. They don't care about the country. They want to keep on holding their position till they die.
SULLIVAN: John Ison Fernando is an events planner who lives near and prays at St. Anthony's in Colombo, one of the churches bombed on Easter Sunday.
FERNANDO: The prime minister wants to be the president in the next election. Current president wants to hold his position till next election. In this panic situation, still they are careless.
SULLIVAN: Both the president and the prime minister still deny having seen any intelligence warning of possible attacks.
PAIKIASOTHY SARAVANAMUTTU: At one level, if we are to be charitable, it was a degree of incompetence and complacency, et cetera.
SULLIVAN: Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo.
SARAVANAMUTTU: At another level, which is more insidious, is a notion that, you know, perhaps there were people who did not want anyone to act upon it and wanted the catastrophe to take place because there are political or other benefits to be derived from it actually happening.
SULLIVAN: It's not clear who those people might be, he says. But even with the security services' aggressive response in rounding up suspected militants since the attacks, the political damage to both the president and prime minister is substantial.
JAYADEVA UYANGODA: What they are doing at the moment is blaming each other, you know, saying that, you know, I didn't know. But people don't buy that argument. People are laughing at them.
SULLIVAN: Political analyst Jayadeva Uyangoda.
UYANGODA: There's a very serious credibility crisis for the president as well as the prime minister. It will be very, very difficult for them to overcome that problem, the credibility gap, a very serious credibility gap.
SULLIVAN: And in the aftermath of the attacks, with an election set for December next year, a new candidate for president emerged over the weekend who aims to fill that gap, former defense minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who's pledged to dismantle the networks of Islamist militants in the country. A man accused of atrocities during the long war with Tamil separatists here, but one whose strongman image may find a receptive audience after the Easter suicide bombings. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.
SARAVANAMUTTU: The argument is this. We need strong leaders. We need authoritative leaders. But we may end up with getting authoritarian leaders and a rush back to the future.
SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Colombo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.