Sri Lanka issues emergency ban on face coverings after deadly Easter bombings

Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty ImagesA Sri Lankan Muslim girl wearing the hijab walks through the streets of the eastern town of Kattankudi in Batticaloa on May 20, 2011.
  • Sri Lanka on Sunday issued an emergency ban on face coverings for Muslim women in the wake of the Sri Lanka bombings last week that left over 250 people dead and scores more injured.
  • The temporary measure was ordered by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, and also bans all types of face coverings that could hide someone’s identity. The law will go into effect on Monday.
  • Catholic leaders also canceled Sunday Masses and closed all churches on the island amid fears of additional attacks.

Sri Lanka on Sunday issued an emergency ban on face coverings for Muslim women in the wake of the Sri Lanka bombings last week that left over 250 people dead and scores more injured.

The temporary measure was ordered by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, and bans all types of face coverings that could hide someone’s identity. The law will go into effect on Monday, the president’s office announced in a statement.

“The ban is to ensure national security … no one should obscure their faces to make identification difficult,” the statement said.

While most of the country is Buddhist – around 70 per cent – Muslims make up about 10 per cent of the 21 million population. Christians and Hindus make up 7 and 13 per cent of the population respectively, according to the New York Times.

Some Muslim women cover their faces with burqas or niqabs as part of their religious observance. Member of Parliament Ashu Marasinghe proposed a ban on burqas last week, claiming that the garb is not “traditional” Muslim attire in the country and has been used by terrorists to hide their identities.

Sri Lanka’s top Muslim body last week advised women to stop wearing the religious garb in the interest of national security.

“We strongly appeal to our sisters to be mindful of the critical emergency situation now prevalent in our country and the difficulties faced by security officers in performing their functions in situations where the identity of a person cannot be ascertained,” a letter from the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) stated.

Catholic leaders also canceled Sunday Masses and closed all churches on the island amid fears of additional attacks, Associated Press reported.

The extraordinary measures come after officials and the US Embassy in Colombo warned that militants with explosives remained at large and urged people to stay away from places of worship.

A sermon was instead broadcast on televisions across the country by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, from a small chapel at his residence.

The security measures follow a series of bombings erupted across the country last week, targeting luxury hotels and churches during the Easter holiday. The death toll was revised to 253, and many more remain injured in hospital.

The coordinated attacks were linked to a local militant group and were the worst the country has seen since the end of its civil war a decade ago. The Islamic State made claims of responsibility for the bombings.

Two gunmen were killed in a shootout with security forces on Friday as troops were investigating a suspected safe house in eastern Sri Lanka. The Army also said earlier on Friday that gunfire had broken out as security forces were searching for an address in Kalmunai that was believed to be producing explosives.


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Sri Lankan officials say 2 gunmen were killed in a shootout with soldiers during a raid on a suspected terrorist safe house

According to Sky News, the father and brother of the suspected mastermind of the bombings were killed in the raids. A number of civilians are also believed to have been killed in the exchange.

Sri Lankan police have arrested dozens of suspects in connection with the blasts, as checkpoints and heavy security patrols remain on alert across the country.

President Sirisena said about 140 people had been linked to Islamic State in connection with the incident, according to AP, and that a “major search operation has been undertaken” for additional suspects.

Every household in the country will be checked,” he said Friday.

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