Sri Lankan churches shut a week after bombings

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The encounter between security forces and a group of armed men broke out on Friday night during a search and cordon operation related to the Easter Sunday attacks.

"Catholic leaders canceled Sunday Masses indefinitely across Sri Lanka and officials urged Muslims to stay home for Friday prayers in an extraordinary call by the clergy to curtail worship as fear of more attacks plagued the island nation after the deadly suicide bombings on Easter", the Associated Press reported.

The restriction will take effect from Monday, President Sirisena's office said in a statement today.

Calling burqas "a security risk and a flag of fundamentalism", Sri Lanka's president is banning the garment worn by some Muslim women. "No one should obscure their faces to make identification hard", Sirisena said in a statement.

Foreign countries, including the United States, India and the United Kingdom have issued travel advisories for their people who intend to travel to Sri Lanka anytime soon.

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Earlier in the day, the Justice Ministry and All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, religious body representing country's Muslim clerics, discussed draft legislation to ban the burqa in Sri Lanka.

"This is a time our hearts are tested by the great destruction that took place last Sunday", Ranjith said.

A police spokesman said that three suspected suicide bombers were among the 15 dead after the shoot out.

The country is still reeling from the terror blasts that ripped across three cities on April 21 in several churches and hotels, taking at least 253 lives and leaving hundreds more injured.

The cardinal has repeatedly assailed the authorities for failing to share intelligence reports that had warned of an impending jihadist attack against Christians.

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The Sri Lankan cabinet had proposed laws on face veils at a recent meeting.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Easter terror attacks on three Catholic churches and three luxury hotels but the government has blamed a local Islamist extremist group, National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ), for the bombings.

"This is a time questions such as, does God truly love us, does He have compassion towards us", Ranjith said in the Mass on television. Those arrested include two men whom authorities recently appealed to the public to locate.

Intelligence officials believe NTJ and JMI would have required help from worldwide terror networks to carry out such a co-ordinated and devastating attack.

After the raid, the Sri Lankan government announced that anyone found guilty of spreading fake information would be imprisoned for up to three to five years.

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Sri Lanka's military said the gunfire and later suicide blasts killed 15 people, including six children.