By Sasha Ingber
Sri Lanka has banned its citizens from wearing face coverings under an emergency law, after terrorist attacks at prominent churches and upscale hotels left hundreds dead in the small island nation.
President Maithripala Sirisena said the ban was meant to ensure national security, helping authorities to identify people. He did not specifically mention the niqab and burka, types of facial coverings worn by Muslim women across the world, but critics say the new measure violates their rights.
Amid heightened safety concerns, a body of Islamic scholars in Sri Lanka advised last week that Muslim women “should not hinder the security forces in their efforts to maintain national security by wearing the face cover (Niqab).”
The government’s face-covering ban took effectMonday, days after a violent raid that was linked to the investigation of the Easter Sunday bombings.
In the April 21 attack, a string of explosions occurred at three luxury hotels frequented by foreigners and three churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, as well as Negombo, to the north, and Batticaloa, to the east. At least 253 people were killed in the coordinated attacks. Another 15 people, including six children, died Friday in the country’s Eastern province after soldiers raided a house in search of suspects, a military spokesman said.
Authorities blamed the bombings on National Thowfeek Jamaath, a Muslim militant group that previously vandalized Buddhist statues in the majority Buddhist country. Sri Lanka was not seen as a hotbed for radical Islamist activity before the Easter attacks.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings last week, triggering fears of further violence the terrorist group might inspire. Sri Lankan authorities have arrested dozens of suspects and are searching for more militants with suspected links to ISIS.
The terrorist attacks have exacerbated a rivalry between Sri Lanka’s president and prime minister, who belong to different political parties. In 2018, the president ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe because of an alleged assassination attempt before later reappointing him.
But on Sunday, the two leaders attended a mass together in a rare display of unity, while Catholic churches were closed for safety.
Both men denied receiving intelligence warnings in the days before the coordinated bombings, yet both have been blamed for the attacks.
“At one level, if we are to be charitable it was a degree of incompetence and complacency,” Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, tells NPR’s Michael Sullivan of the government’s response to the warnings.
“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,” Saravanamuttu says, “because they have political or other benefits to be derived from it actually happening.”
Sri Lanka is set to hold presidential elections late this year. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defense minister and the brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has emerged as a vocal candidate. He pledged to bring peace and “dismantle the networks” of radical Muslim militants in the country.
Wickremesinghe, the prime minister, has promised to enact new legislation to combat terrorism, saying, “Sri Lanka does not have any laws to arrest individuals who join foreign terrorist organizations,” according to the country’s state news agency.
Meanwhile, some top officials have been replaced since the bombings. Former Army Commander General S. H. Shantha Kottegoda was appointed as the new secretary to the Ministry of Defense on Monday, after the president requested former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resign.
Some Sri Lankans say they’re distrustful of their leaders’ motivations. John Ison Fernando, an events planner who is a member of St. Anthony’s Shrine, one of the bombed churches, tells NPR, “The prime minister wants to be the president in the next election. The current president wants to hold his position till next election.”
He added, “In this panicked situation, still they are callous.”
Court Rules on Ndume’s Bail Application Friday
The Federal High Court in Abuja has fixed Friday for ruling on the bail application filed by Borno South Senator, Ali Ndume, who has been detained in prison since Monday over his suretyship for Abdulrasheed Maina believed to have jumped bail.
Justice Okon Abang adjourned for ruling after Ndume’s lawyer, Marcel Oru, argued the bail application, which was opposed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar.
Maina, a former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reformed Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, is being prosecuted by the EFCC on charges of money laundering involving N2bn.
On November 18, 2020, Justice Abang revoked the bail granted him, ordered his arrest, and directed that his trial would proceed in absentia.
The judge also on Monday remanded Ndume in prison until he produced Maina or paid the sum of N500m bail bond to the Federation Account.
Ndume, through his lawyer, Marcel Oru, had on Tuesday filed an appeal against the remand order at the Court of Appeal, along with an application for the bail of the defendant filed before Justice Abang.
Widow of Killed Vendor Urges Gbajabiamila to Ignore Family’s N500m Demand,
Josephine Okereke, the wife of the newspaper vendor shot and killed by a Department of State Services operative attached to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has disowned her husband’s family over their demand for N500m compensation.
Josephine spoke at a press conference in Abuja on Thursday.
The family of Ifeanyichukwu Okereke had written to Gbajabiamila, demanding N500m.
Lawyer to the family, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), in a letter dated November 23, 2020, said he was given the mandate to write the letter by the father of the deceased, Okorie Okereke; and the younger brother to the deceased, Destiny Okereke.
The DSS had last week arrested the operative, Abdullahi Hassan, who shot Okereke while Gbajabiamila had also visited the family of the deceased and promised to ensure that they do not suffer.
However, the family demanded more, adding that nothing could bring the dead vendor back to life.
The widow, however, said she was not aware of the pre-litigation process, urging the Speaker to ignore the family fulfill his promises to her and her two children.
GSA Set to Celebrate First Anniversary
A new generational church In Lagos, GLORY SIGNATURE ASSEMBLY will be celebrating 5 years in ministry and her 1st anniversary as a church on December 12. The event is expected to showcase pomp and pageantry.
The church will also be opening and dedicating her new edifice referred to as THE SIGNATURE HOUSE.
The anniversary promises to be one of its kind as it will be featuring several activities that will illuminate the lives of everyone that will be present.
The theme of the anniversary is ‘THE EARTH HAS YIELDED ITS INCREASE AND GOD OUR GOD HAS BLESSED US’
Popular preacher, Dr Abel Damina, will be ministering alongside Rev. Mrs Nnamso Akpan, who is the Chief Host to the glory of God.
Also, Pastor Wisdom Chigozie, Min. Paul Daniels, Min. Esther Benyogo & THE SIGNATURE VOICES will be leading people to true worship at the anniversary.
Reception follows immediately after service at the same venue.
Furthermore, as part of the anniversary activities, the annual thanksgiving of the church will hold On Sunday Dec. 13 @ THE SIGNATURE HOUSE.
There is going to be an outpouring of abundance, new doors will be open, fresh grace has already been released for the service….come experience the signature of Gods glory! Don’t miss out….come let us sing for joy to the Lord!