Sri Lanka has lowered the death toll from the Easter suicide bombings by nearly one third to 253 as authorities hunted urgently for at least five more suspects and braced for the possibility of more attacks in coming days.
In rolling back the number of dead from 359, a top Health Ministry official Dr Anil Jasinghe said the blasts had damaged some bodies beyond recognition, making accurate identification difficult.
The admission came as Britain advised its citizens against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.
The Foreign Office says terrorists are very likely to try to carry out indiscriminate attacks there, including in places visited by foreigners.
Eight Britons were among those killed by suicide bombers at churches and luxury hotels in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. Religious leaders cancelled public prayer gatherings amid warnings of more such attacks, along with retaliatory sectarian violence. In an unusually specific warning, the US Embassy in Sri Lanka said places of worship could be hit by extremists this weekend.
At least 58 people have been arrested in connection with the wave of blasts at churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, including the father of two of the alleged suicide bombers – one of Sri Lanka’s wealthiest spice traders.
Authorities have said those involved in the bloodbath were well educated and well-off financially.
Sri Lankan authorities have blamed a local Muslim extremist group National Towheed Jamaat. The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility, though officials are still investigating the extent of any involvement.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said militants who may have explosives remain on the loose in the country and “may go out for a suicide attack”. “We have rounded up a lot of suspects, but there are still active people on the run,” he said. “They may be having explosives with them, so we have to find them.”
Police appealed for information about an extra three women and two men suspected of involvement in the bombings.
The bloodshed stirred fears of more sectarian violence in Sri Lanka, a country of 23 million people – about 70 per cent of them Buddhist, with the rest Muslims, Hindus and Christians.
“Sri Lankan authorities are reporting that additional attacks may occur targeting places of worship,” the US Embassy warned on Twitter.”