Sri Lankan police detained another 18 suspects in a string of raids over the bombings that hit the country on Easter Sunday. The government also said it had confirmed that dozens more had died in the attacks.
Security forces in Sri Lanka used emergency powers to conduct overnight raids and detained 18 new suspects in connection with the deadly Easter Sunday bombings, officials said Wednesday.
Nearly 60 people have been detained since the attacks killed hundreds of churchgoers and hotel guests on Sunday.
The authorities also upped the death toll on Wednesday, saying that at least 359 people have lost their lives. Around 500 people were wounded in the blast with hundreds still in hospital.
Preliminary inquiries indicate a local Islamist group, National Thowfeek Jamaath, was behind the attack, and that the suicide blasts were conceived as retaliation for recent mosque shootings in New Zealand. The government also said the group likely had "international support" from larger terror networks.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she has not yet seen any evidence of the link between the terror strikes in Christchurch and the ones in Sri Lanka.
Government under fire
Sri Lanka's government also acknowledged "major" lapses over failing to prevent the Easter attacks, despite prior intelligence warnings.
President Maithripala Sirisena asked for the defense secretary and the national police chief to resign on Wednesday, ading that he planned to change the head of the defense forces within a day but did not say who would replace them.
Sri Lanka's police chief reportedly warned on April 11 that suicide bombings on churches were possible, citing information from a foreign intelligence agency. The government says that the information was not shared with the prime minister or other top ministers.
The targets of the blasts included three churches, which were hit during Easter Mass, and three luxury hotels.
Most of the victims were Sri Lankan and from the nation's Christian minority. At least 38 foreigners were also killed, including 10 Indians, eight UK nationals, four Americans, and three children of the Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen.
Suspected links with Islamic State
"Islamic State" (IS) claimed responsibility for the blasts on Tuesday. However, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe could not confirm the link during a Tuesday press conference.
"Certainly the security apparatus is of the view that there are foreign links and some of the evidence points to that," Wickremesinghe told reporters.
The US embassy in Colombo said agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were on the ground to help Sri Lankan authorities with the investigation.
Washington's ambassador in Colombo said the US had "no prior knowledge" that suicide attacks were planned, adding that the danger might not be over.
"We believe there are ongoing terrorist plots;" Ambassador Alaina Teplitz told reporters. "Terrorists can strike without warning. Typical venues are large gatherings, public spaces."
rs,dj/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)