Sri Lanka churches hold first Sunday Mass services since Easter bombings

Prayers are said during a holy mass held to bless victims of the Easter Sunday attacks in Colombo, Sri Lanka Credit: AP

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has held the first regular Sunday Mass since the Easter Sunday suicide bombings of churches and hotels killed more than 250 people.

As services took place, military forces and police armed with assault rifles patrolled the streets leading to churches and stood guard outside the compounds.

Everyone entering religious sites was required to produce identity cards and be body searched.

A Sri Lankan Catholic couple prays at a church as they attend Sunday Mass. Credit: AP

Volunteers were stationed at the gates of churches to identify parishioners and look out for any suspicious individuals.

Parking was banned near the churches and officials urged worshippers to bring only minimum baggage.

A Sri Lankan solider secures the premises of a Catholic church. Credit: AP

Seven suicide bombers struck two Catholic churches and a Protestant one, and three luxury hotels in the attacks on April 21.

So-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings, which were carried out by a local radicalised Muslim group National Towheed Jamaar (NTJ).

An armed soldier stands guard outside St Lucia’s Cathedral during a holy mass for the victims of the attacks. Credit: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

Sunday services were cancelled in the two subsequent weekends amid fears of more attacks, leaving the faithful to hear Mass via live TV transmission from the Colombo residence of Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith.

The cardinal led holy mass for the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks at St Lucia's Cathedral in the capital.

Church authorities are also considering the reopening of Catholic schools on Tuesday if they can be satisfied with security.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith addresses survivors during a holy mass on Saturday. Credit: AP

President Maithripala Sirisena said last week that 99% of the remaining suspects in the Easter attacks have been arrested and their explosive materials seized, and it is safe for tourists to return to the Indian Ocean island nation.

Police say two previously little-known radical Islamist groups – NTJ and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim – conspired in the attacks.

Officials say Zahran Hashim, a vitriolic preacher from the country’s east, may have led the attackers and was one of the bombers to die.