Islamic State claims responsibility for Sri Lanka bombings


Police officials and catholic priests stand inside the church after a bomb blast in Negombo, ...
Police officials and catholic priests stand inside the church after a bomb blast in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

Islamic state has claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka which killed 321 people and injured about 500 others, the group’s AMAQ news agency said on Tuesday.

The group did not give evidence for its claim.

A Sri Lankan official had earlier alleged that the Easter bombings were revenge attacks for similar incidents at mosques in New Zealand.

“The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack,” junior minister for defence Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament.

According to the junior minister for defence Ruwan Wijewardene, two domestic Islamist groups were believed to have been behind Sunday’s blasts.

He did not elaborate on why authorities believed there was a link to the killing of 50 people at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch during Friday prayers on March 15. A lone gunman carried out those attacks.

Wijewardene said two Sri Lankan Islamist groups – the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim – were responsible for the blasts early on Sunday during Easter services and as high-end hotels served breakfast.

U.S. intelligence sources said the attacks carried some of the hallmarks of the Islamic State militant group.

Islamic State is usually quick to claim responsibility for, or links to, attacks against foreign targets or religious groups, whether it was involved or not, they said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament investigators were looking into foreign links.

Officials said the attacks were carried out by at least seven suicide bombers, on three churches and four hotels.

The toll rose to 321 dead with about 500 people wounded.

Earlier on Tuesday, Sri Lankan government and military sources said a Syrian had been detained among 40 people being questioned over the bombs.

“He was arrested after the interrogation of local suspects,” one of the sources said, referring to the unidentified Syrian.

FUNERALS

Tuesday was declared a national day of mourning and the funerals of some of the victims were held, as pressure mounted on the government over why effective action had not been taken in response to a warning this month about a possible attack on churches by the little-known National Thawheed Jama’ut group.

The first six attacks – on three churches and three luxury hotels – came within 20 minutes on Sunday morning.

Two more explosions – at a downmarket hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo – came in the early afternoon.

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

The U.N. Children’s Fund said 45 children were among the dead.

Footage on CNN showed what it said was one of the bombers wearing a heavy backpack. The man patted a child on the head before entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Dozens were killed there.

The bombs brought a shattering end to a relative calm that had existed in the Buddhist-majority Indian Ocean island since a bitter civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

 

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