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Catholic services in Sri Lanka capital cancelled for second weekend

A boy holds a processional cross during Mass at St Joseph's church in Thannamunai, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday, April 30. This small village in eastern Sri Lanka has held likely the first Mass since Catholic leaders closed all their churches for fear of more attacks after the Easter suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people. Picture by Gemunu Amarasinghe, Associated Press
Bharatha Mallawarachi, Associated Press

Catholic services have been cancelled for a second weekend in Sri Lanka's capital after the government warned of more possible attacks.

Reverend Edmund Tillakaratne, spokesman for the Colombo diocese, said on Thursday that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had cancelled all Sunday services in the diocese based on the latest security reports.

Muslims were told to stay home for Friday prayers last week and all of Sri Lanka's Catholic churches were closed.

Instead of the usual Sunday Mass, Cardinal Ranjith delivered a homily before clergy and national leaders at his residence that was broadcast on television.

But Sri Lanka's Muslim leaders are encouraging people to return to mosques for Friday prayers, according to N M Ameen, president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka.

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

The April 21 bombings at churches and luxury hotels killed more than 250 people and officials have warned that suspects linked to the bombings are still at large.

Cardinal Ranjith has criticised the government's apparent failure to share near-specific intelligence on the Easter plot and on some of the suspects involved.

A Cabinet minister said on Tuesday that intelligence warnings had indicated that government ministers could be targeted by the same group, which pledged its loyalty to Islamic State militants.

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi postponed a trip to Sri Lanka this week because of security concerns, a senior foreign ministry official said.

The US embassy in Colombo remained closed to the public until Friday.

Sri Lankan police released the names and photographs of nine alleged suicide bombers, on Wednesday, 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 on 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 there were many groups with names that included the words Thawheed Jama'ath, which roughly translates as monotheism organisation.

This group is one of several that have organised news conferences to clear their names after being confused in news reports with the group accused of carrying out the bombings.

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