Sri Lanka bans face coverings after bomb attacks and warns of terror threat from jihadis dressed in military uniform

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

Sri Lanka's government has banned face coverings that conceal people's identities in the wake of the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

The emergency law prevents Muslim women from veiling their faces.

Police hope the ban will help them in their hunt for the rest of the terror network behind the bombings and while some Muslims support the move, others have viewed it as a violation.

The decision came after the Cabinet had proposed laws on face veils at a recent meeting.

It had deferred the matter until talks with Islamic clerics could be held, on the advice of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The decision comes as an alert has been issued about extremists disguised in military uniforms.

Speaking from Sri Lanka, ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward told how security remains on high alert across the island.

She told how soldiers are patrolling the streets, and armed police are guarding locations where there is still the potential of more attacks.

A Muslim woman pictured shopping in Colombo but without a face veil. Credit: ITV News

More than a week has passed since the blasts - which targeted three upmarket hotels and three packed churches, as well as three related locations - killed more than 250 people, including eight Britons, and left a further 500 injured.

Some 59 people are now in custody in connection with the bombings but more terror suspects are believed to be at large and possibly in possession of explosives in preparation for more terror strikes.

So-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the terror attacks, and investigators are looking into the extent of their direct involvement with the local radicalised Muslims who carried out the blasts.

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena said he was using an emergency law to impose the headdress restriction from Monday.

Any face garment which "hinders identification" will be banned to ensure security, his office said. Muslim leaders criticised the move.

The niqab and burka - worn by Muslim women - were not mentioned but the decision is perceived as targeting those garments.

Around 10% of Sri Lanka's 21 million population is Muslim.

Hilmy Ahmed, vice-president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council, is reported to have described the ban as stupid.

Troops continue to patrol the streets of Colombo as a terror threat remains. Credit: ITV News

Earlier, the Catholic church in Sri Lanka said the government should crack down on Islamists "as if on war footing" in the aftermath of the bombings.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, said the church may not be able to stop people from taking the law into their own hands unless the government conducts a more thorough investigation and prevents further attacks.

The cardinal said he is not satisfied in the manner in which the government has carried out its investigations so far.

Cardinal Ranjith told reporters: "All the security forces should be involved and function as if on war footing.

"I want to state that we may not be able to keep people under control in the absence of a stronger security programme.

"We can't forever give them false promises and keep them calm. (We ask the government) to implement a proper programme in order that the people don't take the law into their own hands."

Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena appointed former army commander Shantha Kottegoda as the top official in the defence ministry after requesting the resignation of his predecessor, Hemasiri Fernando, for intelligence failures that led to the bomb attacks.