Sri Lanka cancels Catholic services for second week amid new attack fears

The government has warned of new plots after the Easter Sunday massacre

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, at his residence in the Sri Lankan capital, April 24, 2019. Jack Moore / The National
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Sri Lanka's highest Catholic figure has cancelled services for a second week in a row over fears of new attacks following the Easter Sunday massacre that left at least 257 people dead.

The Catholic churches of Sri Lanka were closed after the attacks and Catholics were told to avoid large gatherings and celebrations. Services were set to restart on Sunday but new security reports have caused the Church to re-evaluate the situation.

Rev. Edmund Tillakaratne, spokesman for the Colombo diocese, said Thursday that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had canceled all Sunday services in the diocese based on the latest security reports.

Last week, Muslims were told to stay home for Friday prayers and all of Sri Lanka's Catholic churches were closed. Instead of the usual Sunday Mass, Ranjith delivered a homily before clergy and national leaders at his residence that aired on television.

The April 21 bombings at churches and luxury hotels killed 253 people and officials have warned that suspects linked to the bombings are still at large.

A Cabinet minister said Tuesday that intelligence warnings had indicated government ministers could be targeted by the same group, which pledged its loyalty to ISIS.

Mr Ranjith has criticised the government's apparent failure to share near-specific intelligence on the Easter plot and some of the suspects involved.

Sri Lankan police late Wednesday released the names and photographs of nine suicide bombers who carried out the Easter attacks. They included extremist preacher Mohammed Zaharan, also known as Zahran Hashim, who was described as the attack leader, and another suicide bomber's wife, who blew herself up, along with her children and three police officers, at a villa belonging to her father-in-law, who is a prominent spice trader.

The death toll from the Easter suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka rose to 257, authorities said on Thursday.

They warned that the final number of dead from the April 21 attacks on three churches and three Colombo hotels would rise further.

"The death toll stands at 257 as of now," Anil Jasinghe, government director general of health services, said.

"The death toll slowly increased because there were some in-hospital deaths. There are some body parts as well so it is actually 257-plus."

At least 40 of the dead are foreigners, with some missing tourists still to be accounted for.

According to the latest count, 496 injured were admitted to hospitals, with 47 still being treated and 12 of those in intensive care.

The government had given a toll of more than 350 but brought this down last week, blaming double counting of bodies that were badly mutilated in the six blasts.