Sri Lanka Terror Attacks: ‘International network’ linked to bombings

A wave of bombings that killed 290 people in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday was carried out with the support of an international network, Sri Lankan officials said. The government has blamed a little-known local jihadist group, National Thowheed Jamath, although no-one has yet admitted carrying out the bombings. Over 500 others were injured in the suicide attacks on churches and hotels.

Sri Lankan authorities were warned about a bomb threat from National Thowheed Jamath a full two weeks before the attacks, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said at a press conference. He said that the warnings were not passed on to the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, or his cabinet. Wickremesinghe acknowledged that security services had been “aware of information” but had not acted on the information.

Sri Lanka’s Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said, was a result of “colossal intelligence failure” as there was prior information about the attack. He demanded the resignation of the Inspector General of Police. “As a government, we apologize to families and other institutions. The problem is that even when we met the Prime Minister at the Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister was also in the dark,” he said.

The emergency declaration by the Sri Lankan Government will give police and military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders. Police have arrested 24 people in a series of raids and the president’s office declared a state of national emergency.

Four Indians were among those killed in the suicide bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, while many others, including a leading Tamil actress, had a narrow escape.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj quoted the Indian High Commission as saying that it had been informed by the National Hospital in Colombo about the death of three Indian nationals — Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar, Ramesh. “We are ascertaining further details,” the Minister said.

Islamist extremists carried out the first six major suicide bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, The Daily Mirror reported. Investigators said that two terrorists had on Saturday checked into Room 616 of The Shangri-La hotel, one of the three Colombo hotels where blasts took place in quick succession, the English language daily reported.

Close circuit television camera (CCTV) footage revealed that the suspects detonated the bombs in the cafeteria and on the corridor of the hotel, it said.

Investigators suspect that C-4 explosives weighing 25 kg were used for the bombings at the hotel, it said.

The investigators who broke into the room found materials used by “radical Islamic extremists”, the daily quoted sources as saying. It was unclear if the bombers were locals or international terrorists who arrived on tourist visa to the island nation.

On Monday, another blast rocked a street near a church in the capital, Colombo. Police were attempting to defuse explosives in a vehicle used by the attackers when it blew up. It is not yet known if anyone was hurt.

On Monday, 87 detonators were found from the main bus station at Pettah in Colombo while a bomb the security forces were trying to defuse exploded near the St Anthony Church in Colombo, triggering panic in the area.

An improvised explosive device (IED) was also detected near the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Monday morning and was defused in controlled explosion by the Sri Lanka Air Force, according to the Daily Mirror.

Police said that they had seized a van and its driver who allegedly transported some suspects into Colombo and also raided a safe house used by the attackers.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the bloodbath, Senaratne told the media: “NTJ was involved. It is a local organisation. We don’t know whether they are linked to outsiders. All those arrested are locals.” But he too admitted that without an international network, “these attacks could not have succeeded”.

The first of the eight blasts took place on Sunday morning in three luxury hotels — Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-la, Kingsbury — in the heart of Colombo and in a church each in Colombo, Negombo, 30 km from here, and in the Tamil-majority Batticaloa town in the island’s east that was once a Tamil Tiger stronghold.

Later in the afternoon, another blast hit a guest house near the zoo in Dehiwala in Colombo, killing two persons, and a housing complex at Dematogoda in the city leaving three policemen dead.

Sri Lanka’s National Security Council on Monday announced plans to impose a “conditional state of Emergency” from midnight. It said the measures would target terrorism and would not limit freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, the US State Department said that terrorist groups continued to plot possible attacks in Sri Lanka and urged Americans visiting that country to exercise increased caution.

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