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Priests are seen in the background as a security personnel stands guard in front of St Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Catholic services in Sri Lanka capital canceled again

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Catholic services are being canceled for a second weekend in Sri Lanka’s capital after the government warned of more possible attacks by the same Islamic State-linked group that carried out Easter suicide bombings.

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.

Sri Lanka’s Muslim leaders, however, were encouraging believers to return to mosques for Friday prayer, according to N.M. Ameen, president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka.

Ameen said the group had asked the government for extra security.

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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 Islamic State militants.

Ranjith has criticized 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, all belonging to an offshoot of a local group called National Towheed Jamaat. They included extremist preacher Mohamed Zahran, also known as Zahran Hashim, who was described as the attack leader, and the wife of another suicide bomber, 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.

With the atmosphere still tense in Colombo, Sri Lankan Islamic group Ceylon Thawheed Jama’ath held a news conference Thursday to clarify that it was not connected to National Towheed Jamaat, despite having a similar name.

The group’s general secretary, Abdur Razik, said that there were many groups with names that included the words “Thawheed Jama’ath,” which roughly translates to monotheism organization. Some of them have complained that they are being confused in news reports with the group that carried out the deadly bombings.

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