More than 200 killed as churches and hotels targeted in Sri Lanka bombings claimed by Islamic State

Published By ITCT News Desk On : April 21, 2019
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Colombo: At least 207 people have been killed and 450 hurt in explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, police say. [CNN Images]

Eight blasts were reported, including at three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade district during Easter services.

The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels and one other, all in the capital, were also targeted.

A national curfew has been put in place “until further notice” and social media networks have been temporarily blocked.

A foreign ministry official has said at least 27 foreign nationals are among the dead.

A comprehensive real time Twitter thread on the bombings in Sri Lanka is being tweeted by ITCT Deputy Director Faran Jeffery.

 

UPDATE: 

On Tuesday, the attacks in Sri Lanka, which have left 321 dead as per latest figures and over 600 wounded, were officially claimed by the Islamic State group, which released multiple statements and a group photo of at least 8 attackers.

Initial Amaq claim

Detailed claim by IS

Third communique released by IS containing photo of the 8 attackers

Seven inghimasi fighters from Sri Lanka attacks identified by Islamic State in latest statement:  Abu Ubaida – Abu al-Mukhtar – Abu Khalil – Abu Hamza – Abu al-Barra – Abu Muhammad – Abu Abdullah.

Partial translation of detailed IS claim

Additionally, IS also released a short video featuring the team of attackers pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Islamic State supporters have also spread posters celebrating the attacks in Sri Lanka.

One of the posters circulating on pro-IS channels on Telegram

Earlier on Monday, an IS supporter released images of three men posing in front of an IS flag on a pro-IS channel. The photos and names of terrorists released by the IS supporter on Monday match with the information and images released by IS on Tuesday.

Previously ITCT Executive Director Noor Dahri and ITCT Deputy Director and Head of South Asia desk Faran Jeffery had voiced concern that the attacks in Sri Lanka could have links with Islamic State. Additionally Jeffery had also said that these attacks do not appear to be IS-inspired but instead linked to IS core.

Now, Sri Lankan government has confirmed that there is an involvement of an international network, most likely Islamic State, with the help of local recruits. Sri Lankan government has also confirmed that the previous figure from 2016 of 32 Sri Lankans joining IS in Syria and Iraq is old and as per latest reports, as many as 48 Sri Lankans who have fought for IS in Middle East have been arrested by Sri Lankan security services.

It has also been revealed by the Sri Lankan PM that he was kept in the dark by his country’s intelligence services on the tip that there could be suicide attacks in Sri Lanka targeting churches. This tip, it was revealed by the Sri Lankan government, came from Indian intelligence.

It was also revealed on Tuesday by the Sri Lankan government that some of the suspects – who may be armed – are still on the run and the manhunt is still ongoing.

Multiple CCTV footage which show some of the suicide bombers just before the explosions were also released by local media.

 

On Monday, a U.S. intelligence official said that they have identified a key suspect in Sri Lanka bombings who could be the main link between local recruits and IS. U.S. official also said that U.S. is trying to figure out exactly what kind of involvement IS had with the attacks.

Two Saudis, one person from Bangladesh, two from China, eight from India, one from France, one from Japan, one from The Netherlands, one from Portugal, one from Spain, two from Turkey, six from the UK, two people with US and UK dual nationalities, and two with Australian and Sri Lankan dual nationalities are among the foreigners killed in the attacks.

On Monday, it was also revealed that the wife and sister of the suicide bomber at the Shangri La Hotel in Sri Lanka were also killed in a separate suicide blast after a bomber blew himself up causing the concrete floor of a two-storey building to crash on them in a suburb in northern Colombo. The suicide bomber of the Shangri-La hotel has been identified as Insan Seelavan, owner of a factory in Avissawella-Wellampitiya road, the Daily Mirror reported.

When a police team entered a house in the Colombo north suburb of Orugodawatta at Dematagoda to conduct a search, a suicide bomber blew himself up causing the concrete floor of the two-storey building to crash on them, killing three policemen in the eighth blast.

The wife and sister of the suicide bomber at the Shangri La Hotel were killed in the Dematagoda blast, police told the court.

Nine employees of Seelavan’s factory who were among 24 arrested by the Wellampitiya Police in connection with the blasts have been remanded by the court till May 6.

Meanwhile on Monday, there was an explosion near the St Anthony’s Church where one of the attacks happened on Sunday. It was later revealed that a new VBIED found has been exploded in what appeared to be a mismanaged controlled detonation. Horrific videos of the detonation surfaced on social media, indicating that Sri Lankan officials didn’t consider safety rules for the media and public before the detonation took place.

However, there was no casualty, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said, adding that the blast took place at Kotahena area when an explosive device in a parked van was being defused by the STF bomb disposal squad.

Also, 87 bomb detonators were found on Monday at a bus station in Colombo.

On Tuesday, Sri Lankan defense minister also claimed that the attacks could be in “retaliation for Christchurch” attack in New Zealand. However, the Christchurch attack wasn’t mentioned in the statement released by Islamic State.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” state minister of defense Ruwan Wijewardene had told parliament.

Wijewardene said investigations showed that a local group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) was behind the attack and was linked to a little-known radical Islamist group in India.

“This National Thowheeth Jama’ath group which carried out the attacks had close links with JMI it has now been revealed,” Wijewardene told parliament, in an apparent reference to a group known as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen India.

Who is Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen India? 

Little is known about JMI, other than reports it was established last year and is affiliated to a similarly named group in Bangladesh. Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh is an Islamist terrorist organisation operating in Bangladesh. It is also listed as a terror group by the UK. It was founded in April 1998 in Palampur in Dhaka division by Abdur Rahman and gained public prominence in 2001 when bombs and documents detailing the activities of the organisation were discovered in Parbatipur in Dinajpur district. The organisation was officially declared a terrorist organisation and banned by the government of Bangladesh in February 2005 after attacks on NGOs. But it struck back in mid-August when it detonated 500 small bombs at 300 locations throughout Bangladesh. The group re-organised and has committed several public murders in 2016 in northern Bangladesh as part of a wave of attacks on secularists. Six of the top leaders of JMB were captured by the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) security forces in 2005. After being tried and convicted in court, on the evening of 29 March 2007, four were executed by hanging for the killing of two judges and for the August 2005 bombings. 

The JMB’s aim is to replace the government of Bangladesh with an Islamic state based on Sharia Law. It has explicitly stated on more than one occasion that it opposes the political system of Bangladesh and ostensibly seeks to “build a society based on the Islamic model laid out in Holy Quran and Hadith.” The organisation follows the ideals of the Taliban of Afghanistan. Its chief has been quoted as stating that “our model includes many leaders and scholars of Islam. But we will take as much (ideology) from the Taliban as we need.” It opposes democracy as being in violation of Sharia or Islamic law.

It also opposes socialism and its avowed objective is to neutralize left-wing extremists, especially cadres of the Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP). JMB also is opposed to cultural functions, cinema halls, shrines and NGOs. In another leaflet it said, “We don’t want Taguti (non-Islamic) law, let Qur’anic law be introduced. Laws framed by humans cannot persist and only the laws of Allah shall prevail.”

JMB allegedly receives financial assistance from individual donors in Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Libya. Reports have claimed JMB received funding from international NGOs like Kuwait based Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage (RIHS) and Doulatul Kuwait, Saudi Arabia based Al Haramaine Islamic Institute and Rabita Al Alam Al Islami, Qatar Charitable Society and UAE-based Al Fuzaira and Khairul Ansar Al Khairia.

South Asian Terrorist Portal (SATP), The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism and Defenddemocracy.org state that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh “appears” to be connected with non-violent, legal Islamist groups in Bangladesh. Defenddemocracy says that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh is a “proxy” established by the legal Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh party to “push the center of gravity of the political debate toward radical Islamism” and make Jamaat-e-Islami appear more centrist. According to SATP, “many members of the JMB and JMJB have invariably been found to be cadres of the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.

What is National Tawheed Jamaat? 

The Sri Lankan government said on Monday that the a local religious group, National Thowheed Jamaath, was behind the suicide attacks in Sri Lanka.

“Since such a small local group could not have organized such wide-scale and deadly attacks, an international group was likely to have been involved”, cabinet spokesman Dr.Rajitha Senaratne had said.

The radical outfit is wrapped in utmost secrecy, with limited social media footprint, and is not a jihadist juggernaut. At best, it is known for defacing Buddhist statues. It is a splinter group formed by former members of Sri Lanka Tauheed Jamaat (SLTJ).

There is no Facebook Page or Twitter handle for the group. The group’s website is also offline, although it’s not clear if the portal was taken down before or after the Sunday Easter suicide bombings. There are, however, several Thowheed Jamath (the word Thowheed in Arabic means one god or monotheism) Facebook Pages but NTJ is missing. For example, created on August 9, 2013, the United States Thowheed Jamath (USTJ) Page on Facebook is active with the latest post on March 3. The group organises preaching on Islam for the Tamil-speaking Muslims in the US.

Created on October 24, 2014, India Thowheed Jamaath (INTJ) Page on Facebook has old posts from 2015.

The Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ), which has denied links with the Sri Lankan outfit NTJ, said it is opposed to Wahhabism, which is a hardline Islamic doctrine.

According to TNTJ, it has a sister Islamist organisation called the Sri Lanka Tauheed Jamaat (SLTJ) that “seeks and spreads Islamic knowledge in its purest form”.

The Facebook Page of SLTJ, created on December 20, 2012, has consistently been condemning terror attacks.

A user that goes by the name of Kish Mohamed wrote on SLTJ’s Facebook Page on Tuesday: “How many times you will post the same and if your not guilty then why your keep on posting the same matters again n again.. you divided the Muslims you brought the very simple religion into complicated status before this incident happened…”

Ironically, NTJ — the Tauheed group in focus — is believed to have separated from the SLTJ in 2016.

The NTJ’s leadership was condemned by several Sri Lankan Muslim organisations in 2016 for advocating extreme fundamentalist indoctrination of children, and for clashes with Buddhist monks. Abdul Razik, one of their leaders, was arrested for inciting racism.

Media reports, citing Indian intelligence agencies, claim that the current NTJ leader is Mohamed Zaharan Hashim. He is one of the men featured in the Islamic State group photo.

Zahran Hashim

 

Rauff Hakeem, a government minister and the leader of the main Muslim party – Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said that it was lamentable that no preventive action had been taken despite the inputs.

“They have known this, the names have been given, identified, but (they) took no action,” he added.

Two Sri Lankan Muslim groups – the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama and the National Shoora Council – have condemned the blasts and offered condolences to the Christian community.

They have urged that all culprits be brought to book.

A spokesman of the Indian High Commission that they had obtained some information about the impending attacks and had shared whatever intelligence they had with the Sri Lankan government.

The Sri Lankan government has since provided the Indian High Commission greater security.

According to Hilmy Ahamad a leader of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL), the National Tawheed Jamaat headed by Moulavi Zahran had broken away from the older Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaat after the December 26, 2018 incidents in Mawanella in Kandy district in which Muslim radicals had desecrated scores of Buddha’s Statues.

Ahamad said that Zahran fled to various towns in Sri Lanka and at one stage crossed over to India. Some said he was living in Chennai and others said he was in Bengaluru. He has been absconding since then.

Moulavi Zahran was a teacher in a Kathankudy Madrassah. He was a powerful speaker and therefore sought after. Said Hilmy Ahamad: “ Parents were happy that their children were learning the Quran. But they did not know that Zahran was teaching radicalism.”

Zahran disconnected himself from the Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaat and also all other Jamaats, including the Tamil Nadu Tawheed Jammat, and became a lone wolf in hiding. His name suddenly emerged after the Easter Sunday blasts in Colombo. The Lankan government had publicly named him as the mastermind of the carnage. One report said that he was the suicide bomber who blew himself up in Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

In order to distance themselves from Zahran and the National Tawheed Jamaat, the Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu Tawheed Jamaats issued statements saying that they had nothing to do with Zahran and his organization.

The Muslim Council Sri Lanka headed by N.M.Ameen and Hilmy Ahamad had also warned about the hate speech and radicalism of Zaharan after the desecration of Buddha statues in Mawanella in December 2018. Ahamad had informed the authorities about radical elements in his community three years earlier, supported by documents.

“We had warned about Zahran as part of our complaint about hate speech by Buddhist and Islamic leaders and produced evidence including videos of Zahran’s speech. But no action was taken perhaps because there was insufficient evidence,” Hilmy Ahamad said.

 

Insider help or just incompetence? 

One of the suicide bombers had been released from police custody a few months back due to pressure from a powerful politician, Sri Lankan Minister Kabir Hashim had revealed on Monday.

Fielding questions, Petroleum Resource Development Minister Kabir Hashim told The Island that following some incidents in the Mawanella area, Intelligence had unearthed cache of explosives at Lacktowatta in Wanathawilluwa, Puttalam. During the raid two key suspects were captured. However, due to the intervention of a powerful politician, they had been released and one of them had been involved in Sunday’s attacks, the Minister said.

Sri Lanka Minister of Telecommunications, Foreign Employment & Sports, Sri Lanka

Document containing intelligence on possible suicide attacks in Sri Lanka

Document containing intelligence on possible suicide attacks in Sri Lanka

Document containing intelligence on possible suicide attacks in Sri Lanka

English translation of the letter:

April 11, 2019
From DIG Special Security Range
Sent to: Ministerial Security Division
Diplomatic Security Division
Judicial Security Division
Security Divisions of Retired Presidents

“INFORMATION OF AN ALLEGED PLAN ATTACK”

1- This refers to the letter from the Ministry of Defense to the Inspector General of Police and further refers to the memo dated 2019.04.09 by the IGP with reference number STAFF05/IGP/PS/OUT/2860/19.

2- You are hereby instructed to pay particular attention to the reference made in Page 2-4 of the above under title National Thawhith Jamaan concerning a possible suicide attack being planned in this country by Mohammed Zaharan, leader of the National “Thawhith Jamaan.”

3- You should instruct all personnel to pay strict heed to this report and be extra vigilant and cautious of the top officials and residences coming under your purview.

Signed,

Priyalal Dassanayake
Deputy Inspector General of Police
Special Protection Range,
Colombo 02

 

In January, the CID obtained a three-month detention order from the Defence Secretary to interrogate those arrested with some 100 kilos of explosives and 100 detonators in Wanathawilluwa.

The suspects, including the owner of the land where some of the explosives were found buried, were arrested by the CID.

The CID also recovered 20 litres of nitrate acid, fuse wire, two firearms, a stock of ammunition, a computer, a camera and a stock of dry rations.

Minister Hashim said his secretary had been shot by the extremists in retaliation for the police raid on their hideout.

This haul of explosives was recovered following investigations carried out on the telephone numbers found in a mobile phone of a suspect arrested over the incident where Buddha statutes were vandalised at Mawanella in January.

Minister Rajitha Senaratne, yesterday, said that international intelligence agencies had warned the government, on April 04, of an impending attack in the country.

He told a media briefing at Temple Trees, that the Chief of National Intelligence had warned the Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the attacks before April 11. “We are waiting for the President to remove the IGP,” he added.

Hashim also said that the Prime Minister and the State Minister of Defence had not been invited to National Security Council (NDC) meetings since December last year.

Minister Senaratne claimed that the NSC had not complied with a request for a meeting with the Prime Minister on Sunday morning.

 

January 2019 incident

On January 17, 2019, during a search operation for suspects wanted for a series of anti-Buddhist hate crimes in Mawanella, where several Buddha statues were destroyed several weeks before, the authorities in Sri Lanka discovered a large amount of high explosives (100 kg, or 220 pounds), along with 100 detonators and various other items, including firearms, chemicals and dried food rations. An elite force of police commandos raided the remote compound near the Wilpattu National Park wildlife sanctuary, where the two suspects were known to be hiding when the shocking discovery was made. Authorities at the time indicated the terrorists were planning to destroy sacred Buddhist shrines in the ancient city of Anuradhapura with C4. The amount of explosives that was seized, along with 100 detonators, would have destroyed an historical epicenter of Buddhism and Sri Lankan civilization in Anuradhapura.

Official sources said the discovery was made during investigations into recent hate attacks against Buddha statues elsewhere in the country in an apparent attempt to spark tensions between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims.

The main suspect of the Mawanella incident is reported to have conducted lectures on extremist ideologies to some youths in the said house.

 

ITCT view on Sri Lanka attacks

While talking to ITCT Newsdesk, Deputy Director Faran Jeffery said, “It is all but confirmed now that IS was behind these attacks. All we are looking for right now is the extent of IS involvement in these attacks. It is very likely that this was linked to IS core instead of just being an inspired attack. The scale of this operation is simply too large and the planning involved too complex for this to be just a local operation. This is also classic IS modus operandi for international operations. IS has recruited local extremists and militants in other regions to signify its presence and this is just another case of that. We also have to be prepared for the likely possibility that they had some kind of insider help from sympathetic elements. I would love to know why a senior Sri Lankan minister had intervened to release one of the suicide bombers few weeks ago. That minister has blood of 321 people on his hands. Sri Lankan security services also failed miserably to show that they are capable of dealing with such a threat. This is a massive intelligence failure on their part. I am also hearing reports from intelligence sources that a Western IS operative – most likely an American – directed, advised and managed the entire operation in Sri Lanka. This operative, whose identity is still not officially confirmed but is believed to be Abu Muqatil al Amriki, could be the one who was identified on Monday by US intelligence community. So far around 50 people have been arrested by Sri Lankan authorities in connection with the bombings but we can expect some more arrests since there is reason to believe that other members of this cell are still on the run. I will be talking to the Newsdesk agains if we get significant new information.”

 

UPDATE – 24th April

 

On Wednesday, the death toll of Sri Lanka attacks reached 359, making the attack the deadliest attack anywhere since 9/11 as well as the deadliest single operation by the Islamic State anywhere in the world.

Intelligence sources say that Zahran Hashim was the key conspirator and lead bomber in the attacks. They have also identified Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim and his younger brother Ilham as two of the other suicide bombers.

The U.S. State Department has warned of possible terrorist attacks in a revised travel advisory for Sri Lanka, after a series of deadly blasts killed nearly 300 people — including Americans — in the island nation on Easter Sunday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “several” Americans were killed — the worst violence to hit Sri Lanka since a long and bloody civil war ended a decade ago.

The latest U.S. travel advisory urged “increased caution.”

“Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka,” it said.

“Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls” and other public locations like hotels, clubs, restaurants, and places of worship.

Travel advisories from other nations like Australia and Ireland also suggest citizens exercise caution while in Sri Lanka.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo said it would remain closed to the public on Monday and Tuesday, but will continue to provide citizen services.

More arrests made

Eighteen suspects were arrested overnight, bringing the total number detained to 58, said police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara, but Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, warned that several suspects armed with explosives were still loose. Up to nine people directly linked to the attack could still be at large, according to sources involved in the investigation.

Six arrests were made in Aluthgama, five in Beruwala, six in Katana and one in Warakapola areas.

More IEDs found

On Wednesday, police carried out a controlled explosion while investigating a ‘suspicious’ motorbike parked in front of Colombo cinema.

There were no explosives in the vehicle, police said.

Another bomb found in a bag in a restaurant in the Thimbirigaskotuwa area in Katana was defused.

Another suspicious motorcycle left unattended in Pettah was destroyed by the bomb disposal unit. It was unclear if it contained any explosives.

Local police are still looking for more suspects and possible IED bombs, including VBIEDs.

Unattended motorcycle destroyed by detonation in Pettah

Female suicide bomber

The 9th bomber is believed to be female and is believed to be the wife of one of the male bombers. It has been revealed that she was pregnant when she blew herself up along with her three kids.

Fatima Ibrahim, the wife of Sri Lankan millionaire businessman-turned-Islamic State suicide bomber Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim blew herself up with her unborn child, as well as three young sons, when police raided the family home on Sunday night.

Fatima, the intelligence sources said, is believed to have been present amid a group of veiled suicide bombers swearing allegiance to the Islamic State, whose images were released by the jihadist organisation on Tuesday night. She can be seen, the sources said, on the right hand side of the frame, standing behind her husband.

Fatima Ibrahim, standing behind her husband

Ibrahim — along with his brother Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim — left the family’s three-storey luxury home in Dematagoda and blew themselves up at the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La hotels’ breakfast buffets.

Photos of brother bombers: Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim with his brother Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim

 

Both brothers are sons of Mohammed Yusuf Ibrahim, a millionaire spice-trader who contested elections on Left-leaning Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party. Ibrahim counted Minister for Industry and Commerce Rishath Bathiudeen among his close friends, and had often been seen at former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s receptions.

In an interview to The Mirror, Inshaf Ibrahim’s brother-in-law, jeweller Ashkhan Alawdeen, said the businessman-bomber had left home on Friday, saying he was going to Zambia for a business trip.

The parting with his sister, Alawdeen said, was unsual: “When he said goodbye he held her head and said, ‘be strong’.”

“She thought it was a bit strange at the time but didn’t think anything of it.”

“My brother-in-law is a psychopath,” Alawdeen told The Mirror, “He deserves to be punished in hell.”

Inshaf Ibrahim owned Colossus Copper, a manufacturing facility in an industrial estate east of Colombo. The factory, investigators believe, was used to fabricate the suicide vests used in the attack, supplying bolts and screws that filled the devices.

Nine Sri Lankans at the factory, including the manager, were arrested shortly before midnight on Sunday. They worked alongside Indians and Bangladeshi migrant workers.

Composition of explosives used

Sri Lanka’s suicide bombers are thought to have used TATP, chemically known as triacetone triperoxide, an explosive made from commonly available household ingredients including nail polish remover – acetone – and hydrogen peroxide.

The terrorists in Sri Lanka must have purchased large amounts of these two ingredients, yet despite being on the police “radar screen,” no one picked it up. It is suspected they made the stuff in a copper factory in Wellampitiya, a suburb of Colombo, which was owned by Inshaf Ahamad, the suicide bomber who exploded himself at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

TATP plus shrapnel was used in the Manchester suicide bombing in 2017 that killed 23 people and wounded another 39.

Family members weeping over a coffin at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo on Tuesday. Adam Dean for The New York Times

 

Sri Lanka may ban the burqa

Sri Lanka has initiated a plan to ban the burqa as interrogation of suspects and other evidence are pointing to the involvement of a large number of women in the Easter Sunday attacks that killed at least 321 people and wounded nearly 500 others in the island nation, a media report said on Tuesday.

The government is planning to implement the move in consultation with the mosque authorities, the Daily Mirror reported quoting sources.

“The government, he said (source), is planning to implement the move in consultation with the mosque authorities and on Monday several ministers had spoken to President Maithripala Sirisena on the matter,” the paper reported the source as saying.

It has been pointed out that burqa and niqab were never part of the traditional attire of Muslim women in Sri Lanka until the Gulf War in the early 1990s which saw extremist elements introducing the garb to Muslim women.

Defence sources said that a number of female accomplices of incidents in Dematagoda too had escaped wearing burqas, the report said.

 

Educated suicide bombers

One of the bombers studied in the UK and Australia before carrying out the bombings, which may have been funded and inspired by IS, the Sri Lankan defence minister has said.

“We believe that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and later did his postgraduate [studies] in Australia before coming back and settling in Sri Lanka,” said Ruwan Wijewardene, the state minister for defence, at a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

Wijewardene confirmed that many of the bombers had international connections, having lived or studied abroad.

“This group of suicide bombers, most of them are well-educated and come from middle or upper-middle class, so they are financially quite independent and their families are quite stable financially, that is a worrying factor in this,” he said. “Some of them have I think studied in various other countries, they hold degrees, LLMs [law degrees], they’re quite well-educated people.”

Trouble in the Sri Lankan government

Top intelligence officials deliberately hid information on Sri Lanka attacks and did not take any action, a Sri Lanka minister said on Wednesday.

In a televised address late on Tuesday, President Sirisena said he would completely restructure the police and security forces in coming weeks.

“The security officials who got the intelligence report from a foreign nation did not share it with me. I have decided to take stern action against these officials.”

Posters of victims in Batticaloa

India sent three intelligence warnings 

India sent as many as three alerts to Sri Lanka, including one on the day of the Easter Sunday attack, according to senior Indian intelligence officials familiar with the matter who spoke to Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity.

The first alert was on April 4, and it came from investigations by Indian agencies that followed after the National Investigation Agency (NIA), in December 2018, stumbled upon the videos of National Thowheed Jama’at (NTJ) leader Maulvi Zahran Bin Hashim while probing the Islamic State (IS) Coimbatore module.

In the first alert, the agencies told Sri Lanka that, apart from churches, the Indian High Commission in Colombo could be a target. The second alert was sent a day before the attack and was even more specific than the first one in that it mentioned the possible targets, the officials said.

The last alert was sent hours before the suicide bombers attacked the three churches and four hotels.

“The information about the attacks were a result of detailed analysis of information gathered through technical means and human sources,” one of the officials said. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged that alerts had been sent by India.

“India gave us the intelligence but there has been a lapse on how we acted on that… intelligence was not conveyed down the line,” Wickremesinghe told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

Hindustan Times spoke to multiple Indian intelligence officials who confirmed that the videos of Hashim, in which he exhorted Muslim youth from Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala to establish an Islamic rule in the region, were analysed in detail and investigated further by India’s external spy agency R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing). The videos were stored in the pen drives, memory cards, mobile phones and CDs/DVDs, recovered by NIA on December 19, 2018 during raids at Kuniyamuthur, Ukkadam, Otteri in Chennai, Tindivanam near Villupuram, and Variety Hall Road in Coimbatore, from the premises of six ISIS suspects, Mohammed Ashiq A, Ismail S, Samsudeen, Mohammed Salauddin S, Jafar Shadik Ali and Shahul Hameed. The six IS members were arrested on September 1, 2018 for planning to attack Hindu leaders/activists in Coimbatore. The Coimbatore module members, a second intelligence official said, also regularly listened to Hashim’s speeches. All six have already been charged by NIA.

“Hashim’s video, which appeared to be the latest, showed he was aggressive and he repeatedly assured the cadres that something big would happen soon to teach a lesson [to the members of communities which do not follow the Sharia],” said the officer quoted above by Hindustan Times. Further investigation also revealed that some of the Coimbatore module members were in touch with some Sri Lankans, who also followed Hashim.

“Bin Hashim had a major role in radicalising these youngsters on both sides [India and Sri Lanka] to be part of Islamic State,” a second official quoted by Hindustan Times said, who added that the Coimbatore module had no idea of what was being planned in Sri Lanka.

Hindustan Times further reports that Indian agencies subsequently discovered Hashim’s mobile numbers as well and found that Hashim was in touch with some IS functionaries in neighboring Bangladesh. A senior government official who did not wish to be named said that Bangladesh too needs to be on the alert.

Coffins are carried to a grave during the mass funeral at St. Sebastian Church on April 23.Carl Court/Getty Images

Crime scene officials inspect the explosion area at Shangri-La hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

 

UPDATE – 25th April:

 

On Thursday, Sri Lanka health officials claimed that the death toll in the bombings is 253, and not 359 as previously claimed by Sri Lankan security officials and media.

A statement was officially released by the Sri Lankan government to revise the death toll.

Statement by Sri Lanka government revising the death toll

Earlier statement by the health department revising the death toll (1)

Earlier statement by the health department revising the death toll (2)

On Thursday, it was also reported that U.S. military is supporting Sri Lanka with 8 Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) techs on the ground, as per U.S. defense officials.

Additionally, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quoted as saying that there is ‘every indication’ that Islamic State inspired Sri Lanka attacks.

 

Open Source investigation by ITCT Deputy Director prompts clarification from Sri Lanka authorities 

On Thursday, Sri Lankan authorities released some images and information of what it said are suspects that are being sought by the authorities in connection to the bombings. In the initial poster released by the Sri Lankan authorities, a mistake was made which put the security of an innocent American Muslim girl at risk. The incident was initially reported and covered by ITCT’s Deputy Director and Head South Asia desk Faran Jeffery on his Twitter account.

After the initial discovery and reporting by Jeffery, Sri Lankan police was bound to re-check their sources and eventually released an apology clarifying that the wrong person’s image has been used. A new poster was subsequently released by the police which did not contain the image of the American Muslim girl, who was identified as Amara Majeed by Jeffery.

Original clarification letter issued by Sri Lanka police

English translation of the clarification letter by the police

Updated poster released by the Sri Lanka police did not contain the image of the American Muslim girl

 

Earlier on Thursday Sri Lanka’s defense secretary resigned, taking responsibility for the suicide bomber attacks on the country last Sunday.

He said that while there had been no failure on his own part, he was taking responsibility for failures of some institutions he headed as the secretary of defence.

He said that security agencies were actively responding to intelligence they had about the possibility of attacks before they were launched.

“We were working on that. All those agencies were working on that,” he said.

New warnings issued

On Thursday, the U.S. embassy in Colombo issued a fresh warning for American citizens in Sri Lanka, saying that people should avoid “places of worship” in the island nation over the weekend because of possible extremist attacks.

The embassy in Colombo sent the tweet Thursday night after security was stepped up in the capital city and elsewhere in the country.

Similarly, on Thursday, the United Kingdom also issued a warning advising against all non-essential travel to Sri Lanka.

Earlier on Thursday, Israeli Counter-terrorism Bureau also issued a warning, saying that there is a “high and concrete threat” in Sri Lanka following the series of bombings on Sunday and there is concern that the events in Sri Lanka are not over yet.

 

Sri Lankan Muslims reject Islamic State 

On Thursday, Sri Lanka’s main Islamic cleric association ACJU (All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama) said that it will not accept the bodies of the individuals who carried out the Easter Day attacks.

Holding a press conference today (25), Sri Lanka’s main Islamic Cleric association stated that they vehemently condemn these attacks and that those who are responsible for this attack must be brought before the law and given maximum punishment.

ACJU leader during the press conference

The ACJU states that there is no place for terrorism in Islam and that the Muslims of Sri Lanka condemns all forms of violence, extremism, and terrorism. They stated that they clearly wish to emphasize that in the history of Sri Lankan Muslims nobody has ever partaken in such a violent act.

ACJU declared, “Those who committed this barbaric attack on innocent civilians do not belong to us. Hence we categorically state that we will not accept their bodies. They have not done any good on behalf of us.”

Speaking on the recent debate on the traditional Muslim female garb Burqa creating identity issues the ACJU said:

Considering the situation of emergency and the security of the country, we request all our sisters to cooperate and identify themselves and remove their face veil whenever it is necessary. Do not create any situation where others will feel threatened. We request them to carry their identification and corporate with the security officials.”

The ACJU pointed out that the ACJU and the Muslim organizations under ACJU issued a joint declaration against the ISIS on 22nd July 2015. It should be noted that since the declaration was made the ACJU and other Muslim organizations have been continuously informing the defense authorities and requested them to take necessary actions against the individuals who hold extremist ideologies, stated ACJU.

The ACJU stated that the Eastern Muslim community had alerted the police on one of the individuals behind the attacks. They even have gone to the extent of holding protests demanding the arrest of the person, said ACJU.

Furthermore, the ACJU requests all the Christian and Catholic communities to carry out their religious activities on Sunday at the churches as usual and that they, the ACJU, would provide the necessary security they need to carry out their worshipping. If the Christian and Catholic communities do not feel safe to visit churches, the ACJU will support them to carry out the religious activity at safer places.

They will be writing to the Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith with this regard, they further said.

 

Malaysia steps up security at places of worship

Malaysian police has stepped up security at embassies, consulates and places of worship across the country, following the deadly attacks at multiple churches and hotels in Sri Lanka last Sunday, it was reported by Channel NewsAsia.

“Royal Malaysia Police are always on the lookout to immediately act on anything unusual, and we pray that this country will not be hit by disaster (attack on places of worship),” acting deputy inspector-general of police Abdul Hamid Bador said on Thursday.

Instructions have been issued for the police to increase its level of preparedness and be more sensitive to their surroundings, he said.

 

Screenshot from a video released by a pro-IS media channel

On Thursday, a pro Islamic State media channel released a new video which celebrated the attacks in Sri Lanka and threatened more to come. It also clarified that the attacks had nothing to do with New Zealand mosque shooting and in fact were targeted against Christians in Sri Lanka and citizens of Coalition countries.

 

UPDATE – 26th April:

Sri Lanka Police on Thursday arrested three people and seized 21 locally made grenades and six swords during a raid in Colombo, according to a spokesman. He did not give further details or suggest the arrests were linked to the terror attacks.

The army has increased the number of troops on the streets to 6300 and churches have been temporarily closed on the advice of security forces.

Archbishop of Colombo said there will be no Sunday Masses until further notice after bombings in Sri Lanka.

On Friday, Sri Lankan Army and Special Forces raided an apartment where bomb making material, IS flags and drones were found.

 

Another government-linked arrest made

Brother of Sri Lankan Minister for Industry & Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen’s was arrested by the Sri Lankan Army overnight after being stopped at a road block in Vavuniya by the police and was quickly taken into custody by the Intelligence unit of the Sri Lankan Army. He was later handed over to the police for further questioning.

He was later released after giving his statement to the police. It is unclear if any connection has been found linking him with the bombings.

 

Pakistani and Afghan immigrants targeted by angry mobs 

Pakistani and Afghan migrants say they were threatened with death if they stayed in their homes in the town of Negombo.

Hundreds of people have been terrorised out of their homes by angry mobs after the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka, Sky News reported on Thursday.

Over 100 immigrants have fled to the safety of the town’s police station in Negombo.

Ironically, many are Pakistani Christians but that did not save them from the angry Sri Lankan crowds hounding them out of their homes.

There have been also reports of some businesses of Muslims getting attacked by mobs. In the town centre, shops owned by Muslims are shuttered and some of them boarded after windows were smashed with stones.

A business place in Sri Lanka’s Negombo owned by a Muslim family

Another 250 people have sought sanctuary at the town’s mosque, Sky News reported.

While talking to ITCT Newsdesk once again, ITCT Deputy Director and Head South Asia desk Faran Jeffery said, “These attacks on Muslims, and in some cases Pakistani Christians, are highly tragic. This is not something Sri Lanka or the region needs right now. Islamic State is counting on exactly this kind of violence and chaos.”

 

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry suffers 

Sri Lanka fears its lucrative tourism industry could see arrivals drop up to 30 percent, with losses of $1.5 billion this year, after deadly Easter attacks, the finance minister said Friday.

“Tourism will be the worst affected,” Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera told reporters.

“We expect a 30 percent drop in arrivals and that means a loss of about $1.5 billion in foreign exchange.”

Samaraweera said the country could take up to two years to fully recover from Sunday´s attacks.

 

New statement by Sri Lanka PM on foreign terror groups outrages many

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Sky News on Thursday that the Sri Lankan government had known Sri Lankan nationals who had joined Islamic State (IS) had returned to the country – but that they could not be arrested, since joining a foreign terrorist organisation is not against the law.

“We knew they went to Syria … But [in] our country, to go abroad and return or to take part in a foreign armed uprising is not an offence here,” Wickremesinghe said. “We have no laws which enable us to take into custody people who join foreign terrorist groups. We can take those who are, who belong to terrorist groups operating in Sri Lanka.”

While the prime minister may be making as much a political case as a legal one, the pre-existing anti-terrorism law in Sri Lanka was written in, and for, a different time.

The existing laws in Sri Lanka do not account for threats such as the Islamic State group.

Sri Lanka President blames human rights inquires from civil war for IS bombings

Sri Lanka’s president has said investigations into civil war-era human rights abuses weakened the country’s security apparatus and left it vulnerable to last Sunday’s suicide bomb attacks, as members of the government continued to try to diffuse blame for the attacks.

Maithripala Sirisena told Sri Lankan media outlets on Friday morning that there were up to 140 supporters of Islamic State in the country and that about 70 had been arrested.

“I will stamp out Isis from Sri Lanka,” he said. “Our police and security forces are capable of achieving this.”

Islamic State extensively covers Sri Lanka attacks in new issue of al-Naba magazine  

The latest issue # 179 of al-Naba magazine released by the Islamic State extensively covers the Sri Lanka attacks but falls short of releasing any new information.

The new issue came with a separate infographic on the bombings.

IS and pro-IS groups continue to milk the bombings in Sri Lanka. Several posters have been released so far by pro-IS media channels that celebrate the bombings and threaten more attacks.

Poster released by pro-IS Quraysh Media (Unofficial IS): “The Revenge From The Cross Worshipers” “The Outcome of The Blessed Battle of Sri Lanka”

 

Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed, 36, studied aerospace engineering at Kingston University in southwest London from 2006 to 2007 before travelling to Melbourne for a postgraduate degree, it was reported by an Australian news outlet.

The Sri Lankan terrorist had spent time living in Melbourne and left an “angry and crazy” extremist who was investigated for links to Australian-born Islamic State operative Neil Prakash.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed one of the Sri Lanka attackers spent time in Australia on a student and graduate skilled visa, departing in 2013.

The Australian reported that Mohamed was previously one of the subjects of a terrorism investigation by Australian security authorities after intelligence emerged linking him to Prakash, 27.

It’s unknown how much contact the pair had but there was at the very least an “online” link between them, according to The Australian. There is no evidence ­Mohamed and Prakash knew each other while they were both in Melbourne.

Mohamed’s sister Samsul Hidaya told Mail Online the suicide bomber returned to his home country “angry and totally crazy”, berating relatives for trimming their beards. He had developed extreme religious views, she said, and became quiet and withdrawn.

“My brother became deeply, deeply religious while he was in Australia,” she said. “He was normal when he went to study in Britain, and normal when he came back.

“But after he did his postgraduate in Australia, he came back to Sri Lanka a different man.

“He had a long beard and had lost his sense of humour. He became serious and withdrawn and would not even smile at anyone he didn’t know, let alone laugh.”

She said her brother, one of six siblings, had always been religious, but was a music lover and a “funny boy”. That all changed after his time in Australia, she said, and his new devout attitude “created tension” within the family.

“It makes me sad to think what happened to him,” she said. “Before he died he would not let his children listen to music and he never said a friendly word to anyone.”

As per reports in Australian media, Mohamed began working in property and married the landlord’s daughter, Shifana, after he returned from the United Kingdom and before he headed to Australia. He had his first child in Australia before returning to live in an affluent Colombo suburb in the family’s mansion, which was raided on Monday. His younger sister married a Sri Lankan New Zealander and moved to Auckland with their mother.

The bomber came from a well-off tea trading family in the city of Kandy, and studied at Gampola International School and the prestigious Royal Institute in Colombo.

His father died 10 years ago and his mother moved the family to a predominantly Muslim suburb in the capital. His grandfather reportedly left Mohamed an extensive property portfolio. and he had no need to work.

Ms Hidaya told Mail Online she had argued with her brother over his religious beliefs and they had stopped speaking. But she was left reeling at the news of his involvement in the devastating attacks.

“When the police came to tell us it was him, I almost collapsed,” she said. “I just didn’t think he would take it this far. I am still in disbelief. Something happened to him in Australia that changed his personality. He became silent and aloof.”

Mohamed’s wife has been taken into custody and their children, aged six, four, two and six months, are being cared for by their grandmother in the home where the attacks were reportedly planned.

Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed originally wanted to target the five-star hotel Taj Samudra in Colombo, but his suicide vest failed to detonate, an intelligence source told The Times. Mohamed then returned to a safe house in the city’s south to have his device repaired, and detonated it at a guesthouse near Colombo zoo, killing two people. Had he managed to set off the explosive at his first target, the casualties could have been far higher.

 

Australian government issues warning 

The Australian government this morning issued a warning to citizens in Sri Lanka.

“Terrorists are likely to carry out further attacks in Sri Lanka,” the statement read.

“Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. Security has been stepped up across the island. A State of Emergency and night-time curfew remain in place.”

 

Muslims, Christians in Sri Lanka afraid to pray publicly amid fears of new attacks 

Sri Lankans of different faiths were being urged to pray privately amid fears of further attacks Friday, as the country’s prime minister told CNN that security forces were also working to pick up any terrorist “sleepers” — who could activate to initiate another round of attacks.

As Sri Lanka enters its first weekend of religious services following Sunday’s mass bombings, Catholic services across Colombo have been suspended and the government urged Muslims not to gather publicly for the Friday prayer service known as the Jum’ah prayer.
Driving through Colombo, a CNN reporter observed that shops that would normally be open at midday had been shuttered, and noted that security warnings broadcast on television and radio had spread fear.

Signs outside the Dewatagaha Mosque in Colombo denounce the Easter Sunday attacks.
Credit: CNN

 

UPDATE – 27th April: 

 

Huge amounts of bomb-making material and a drone found in a raid on Friday night

 

On Friday, Sri Lanka police arrested seven people during a raid on a residential house near the eastern city of Kalmunai in connection with the recent spree of suicide bombings in the country.

During the search operation in Sammanthurai, police said they found a huge number of bomb-making material, including thousands of ball bearings, plastic explosives, chemicals and trigger devices.

 

The stockpile, discovered in a home in the town of Sammanthurai, 200 miles (325km) from Colombo appears to confirm more horrific attacks were being planned.

The discovery of a so-called Islamic State flag also gives the strongest indication yet that the group responsible for the nine bombings on Sunday is linked to the international terror organisation.

The discoveries came after a shootout at the home between police and suspects. At least two terrorists, including a female, were killed in the shootout. Jihadist literature was also found in the house.

Police also found uniforms similar to those worn by the 8 fighters for the video before they launched Sunday’s attacks. It is believed that those 8 fighters used the same location for filming the video that was eventually released by Islamic State’s Amaq Agency.

“We have found the backdrop the group used to record their video,” the police said in an earlier statement on Friday night.

Police showed the clothing and the flag on national television, as well as some 150 sticks of dynamite and about 100,000 ball bearings seized from the house.

Police said investigators had determined that the attackers’ military training was provided by someone they called “Army Mohideen,” and that weapons training had taken place overseas and at some locations in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province.

Police also said they arrested the operator of a copper factory who had helped Mohideen make improvised explosive devices and purchase empty cartridges sold by the Sri Lankan military as scrap copper.

 

Second raid 

Six kilometres away, in the coastal city of Sainthamaruthu, a gunbattle erupted between police and a group of armed individuals during another search operation conducted at two houses.

Three explosions were heard at one of the houses before the shootout began.

Fifteen people, including 6 children, died during a raid by Sri Lankan security forces as 3 cornered suicide bombers blew themselves up and others were shot dead, police confirmed on Saturday.

Soldiers evacuate an injured child after they raid what believed to be an Islamist safe house in the eastern town of Kalmunai on April 27, 2019. – Fifteen people, including six children, died during a raid by Sri Lankan security forces as three cornered suicide bombers blew themselves up and others were shot dead, police said on April 27. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

The 3 men set off explosives killing 3 women and 6 children inside what was believed to an Islamist safe house near the eastern town of Kalmunai on Friday night, police said.

“Three other men, also believed to be suicide bombers, were found dead outside the house,” police said in a statement.

Police backed by troops exchanged fire with those inside the house for over an hour, a military official said, adding that the bodies were recovered early Saturday following a search operation.

Gunmen opened fire on troops when they attempted to storm the house under cover of darkness, military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said adding that a civilian had got caught in the crossfire and died.

The joint operation was carried out following a tip off that those responsible for the Easter suicide bombings were holed up in a built up area of Kalmunai, 370 kilometers (230 miles) east of the capital. More information was provided by the leaders of a local mosque as well as some Muslim locals, the police confirmed.

There were no casualties among the security forces, the police said.

Gruesome images from the site appeared on social media.

On Saturday, pro-IS groups on Telegram spread a bayah video of the three suicide bombers from the Kalmunai raid site. Children can be seen in the video. The video has since been removed from Twitter but is still part of ITCT’s database.

 

More arrests made and more suspects being hunted down

Sri Lanka Navy Spokesperson on Friday said that Navy personnel has taken 3 terror suspects into custody who were traveling in a 3-wheeler (rickshaw) with one kg of C-4 explosives near Wellawatte railway station.

Sri Lanka security forces say they have arrested 80 suspects so far in various raids.

Soldiers search an abandoned vehicle in Colombo on Friday. CREDIT: Sky News

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said on Friday police are looking for 140 people believed to have links with the ISIS group over the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels that killed at least 253 people.

Sirisena told reporters some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with the extremist group since 2013, and that top defence and police chiefs had not shared information with him about the impending attacks.

A brand-new, unregistered van suspected to belong to Zaharan Hashim’s brother-in-law was recovered from Kalmunai on Friday.

Earlier an indefinite curfew was announced in the Kalmunai, Chawalakade and Sammanthurai areas

In another raid, Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) member Noordeen Mohamed Thajudeen has been arrested by the police over the recovery of 46 swords in Slave Island.

 

Terror alert for 8 Indian states turns out to be a hoax call 

A retired Indian army personnel was arrested on Friday after he allegedly made a hoax call to police control room claiming that 19 terrorists had sneaked into Karnataka.

Eight states were put on high alert late after Karnataka Police received the call of a possible terror attack following which Tamil Nadu Principal Secretary wrote to the Director General of Police (DGP) to be on high alert.

After the call, a special squad traced the call location and arrested the ex-Army personnel.

The 65-year-old accused, Sundara Murthy, had made a hoax call to the control room that terrorists are planning to attack several states in the country.

The hoax caller claimed to be a lorry driver . He was arrested at a rural district in Bengaluru by the Karnataka Police.

Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, and Pondicherry were put on high alert due to the possible terror attack input.

 

Zahran Hashim spent time in South India

 

Zahran Hashim, believed to have masterminded the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, spent “substantial” time in “south India,” a top Sri Lankan military source quoted by The Hindu said on Friday.

Zahran Hashim, a radical preacher, died at the Shangri-La hotel in the capital, Colombo. Hashim led the attack on the popular tourist hotel, accompanied by a second bomber identified as “Ilham”.

Indian officials would not comment that Hashim travelled to India but pointed to evidence of virtual links he maintained with youth believed to be of Indian origin. More than 100 followers of Hashim’s Facebook page are being investigated, said an official, who asked not to be named. The first hints of Hashim’s doctrinal videos, to likely radicalise youth, emerged when Indian authorities interrogated seven members of a group whose leader, officials found, was a follower of Hashim. The men were IS sympathisers and arrested in September 2018 in Coimbatore, on suspicion that they were plotting the assassination of certain political and religious leaders in India, the official said.

Earlier this week, locals told The Hindu that Zahran had left the town two years ago after a fierce disagreement with the Moulavi (religious scholar) on the practice of Islam. He was absconding since then, community leaders said.

 

Pro-IS groups continue to milk Sri Lanka attacks 

Pro-IS groups have since released multiple posters and videos celebrating the attacks in Sri Lanka as well as threatening more attacks.

Pro-IS group released a new Turkish video nasheed with Bengali and English subtitles. Turkish nasheed is named “Kara Bayrağımız (Our Black Flag)”.

A pro-Islamic State (IS) Telegram channel has released a poster in Bengali language which says, “coming soon”, indicating that the IS could be planning an attack in either Bangladesh or West Bengal.

Regional intelligence agencies are investigating the propaganda poster.

Released on Thursday night, the poster reads “Shighroi Aschhe [coming soon], Inshallah…”. The poster also features the logo of a group called Al-Mursalat, according to the Times of India.

Islamic State already has a strong hold in Bangladesh with a section of local terrorist organisation named Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

It is a cause for concern as JMB operatives have been known to recruit and establish hideouts in Kolkata and others parts of West Bengal and neighbouring states.

Three years ago, local JMB sleeper cells had put up posters in several districts of West Bengal asking the youth to join the terrorist organisation.

Similarly, another pro-IS group on Friday released a propaganda video celebrating the attacks in Sri Lanka.

Screenshot from pro-IS propaganda video

Screenshot from pro-IS propaganda video

 

UPDATE – 29th April: 

 

Early Open Source investigation by ITCT Deputy Director reveals interesting facts and theories 

As per the ongoing Open Source investigation by ITCT Deputy Director and Head South Asia desk Faran Jeffery, two of the three IS terrorists seen in the bayah video from one of the Kalmunai raid sites were matched early on with the post-raid video from the site that appeared on local tv and social media.

Rough translation of the baya video of the three men seen in the video from Kalmunai:

 

The Guardian story on Kalmunai raid says:

All day people were coming in and out of the house with the pale-pink walls, and neighbours were becoming suspicious. An elder in the village of the eastern Sri Lankan city of Kalmunai was summoned to confront the men who had rented the property a few weeks before.

The discussion soon became tense, and a tall, well-built man whom the elder did not recognise walked out of the house carrying an automatic weapon. “You have no business being here,” he said, according to the elder, firing a few rounds into the air and sending neighbours fleeing. 

The house in Kalmunai had been rented by a man claiming to be a telecommunications engineer, the landlord, who asked not to be named, said. He had paid cash, but unusually, had not asked for a discount for doing so. Money had not appeared to be a problem.

Infographic linking Sri Lanka suicide bombers caught on CCTV with their targets with time stamps. Credit: @natsecjeff

While the Open Source investigation into Kalmunai raids was still going, Islamic State released an official claim for the Kalmunai incident and also released photo of one of the three men present in the Kalmunai bayah video with Zahran Hashim. The man was later on identified by Faran Jeffery as Zahran Hashim’s brother, Zainee Hashim.

Zahran Hashim’s photo with his brother Zainee Hashim.

Translation of Islamic States’s statement:

17 Sri Lankan policemen fell either dead or injured at an ambush set by ISIS fighters last night in Kalmunay area, southern Sri-Lanka.

A security-related source said to Aamaq agency that 3 ISIS fighters have lured the security forces into a house in which they were hiding in Kalmunay, where confrontation went on for several hours and ended up by the ISIS fighters detonating their explosive vests. It is noted that Sri-Lanka has witnessed several suicide attacks last Sunday, done by ISIS fighters in several cities, leading to killing and injuring over 950 Christians, some of which were foreigners. 

 

IS also released a full photo of both terrorists

According to pro-IS channels, the kunya of the three men in the video is Abu Hammad – Abu Sufyan – Abul Qaqa.

While some journalists and even Rita Katz from SITE Intelligence fell for the photo releases by the Islamic State, it was immediately pointed out by Jeffery that the person on right is not a new terrorist but in fact Zahran Hashim, who died in Easter bombings.

It was also pointed out by Jeffery that the fact that this photo released by Islamic State was likely sent to Amaq’s media operatives before Sunday’s Easter bombings.

Some observations on the second person – later identified as Zainee Hashim – were also tweeted by Jeffery.

It was confirmed by local media on Sunday that Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim, all three who were seen in the video calling for all-out war against non believers, were among 15 killed in Kalmunai on Friday.

Niyaz Sharif, the brother-in-law of Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the wave of Easter Sunday bombings that killed over 250 people in churches and hotels across the island nation, told Reuters the video showed Zahran Hashim’s two brothers and father.

It was confirmed by Reuters on Saturday that a woman and child injured in the fighting were the wife and daughter of Mohammed Zahran Hashim. A BBC story confirmed that “A police officer at the site also said Zahran Hashim’s mother was also believed to be among the victims.”

Open Source investigation also showed that local vigilante Sri Lankans had already identified the link between NTJ/Zahran Hashim and Islamic State months ago but those warnings were also ignored by Sri Lankan authorities.

There is also a photo of Zahran Hashim with a senior Sri Lankan politician Mahamood Lebbe Alim Mohamed Hizbullah, who is the same politician who strongly rejected the reports of NTJ’s involvement in Easter Sunday bombings. Me Hizbullah is also behind the Sharia University project.

 

 

Evidence also shows that NTJ members had been involved in violence in Sri Lanka over the period of several months but all those warning signs were also ignored by Sri Lankan authorities.

 

Jeffery’s Open Source investigation also shows how Sri Lankan police wrongly identified an American Muslim woman activist as one of the accused in Sri Lanka bombings.

It was also revealed by Jeffery’s Open Source investigation that NTJ’s links with IS have been in the open for quite some time but were ignored by local authorities.

 

 

Deputy Mayor of Negombo arrested

The Deputy Mayor of Negombo Mohamed Ansar was arrested today with a sword and other items in his possession.

The Police said that the Deputy Mayor had a dagger and 37 mobile phone batteries in his possession apart from the sword.

 

More raids carried out

A metal sheet fitted with iron balls used in suicide bomb kits & several other items were found from a house in Nintavur, Ampara, police spokesman confirmed on Saturday.

On Saturday Sri Lankan Navy spokesman said that an individual was taken into custody along with a motorcycle, 51 water gel explosive sticks and 215 detonators during a search operation in Erakkandi Trincomalee.

Material found in Erakkandi Trincomalee

On Saturday Sri Lankan Army’s Major General Aruna Jayasekera told local media that terrorists and extremists will be wiped out very soon from the Eastern province and the public including local Muslims provided vital information on terrorist activities in the Kalmunai area.

On Sunday, police recovered gems worth 100K USD, local currency worth 87000 USD and foreign currency worth 3K USD from the Dematagoda residence of Insaf Ibrahim, one of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

In more raids on Sunday, weapons and explosives found in a Nintavur safe house. Additionally, 6 revolvers and explosives were recovered from a building connected to Thawheed Jamath from another area.

Sri Lanka police arrested two suspects, Mohamed Saadik Abdul Haq & Mohamed Saahid Abdul Haq, in Nawalapitiya. Both suspects were quickly identified by Jeffery as the two men from the WANTED poster released by Sri Lankan police earlier.

An underground tunnel was found by STF in a house located near Osmania college in Jaffna on Sunday.

Ibrahim Mohamed Ifran Ahmed, the elder brother of two suicide bombers who exploded at Shangri-La and Cinnamon Hotels, was arrested by the STF in Dematagoda with swords and an air rifle on Sunday.

A security operation was launched on Sunday to arrest Mouvlavi Nouman from Vavuniya who had released an online video justifying the Easter bombings. He leads the mosque at Pattaniechur in Vavuniya but is living in Settikulam in Vavuniya.

Gas mask, chemicals and ball bearings were recovered from one of the sites that were raided in the eastern province.

Same black clothing was also found that was worn by the 8 suicide bombers in their IS bayah video.

More raids were carried out on Monday in different areas.

On Monday, Sri Lanka police arrested multiple Nigerians, an Indian, a Thai female and at least one Iraqi national from different areas of the country.

In another raid on Monday, five 5mm anti-aircraft ammunition and a detonator have been discovered in Matugama-Welipenna, Welipenna Police. The stock of explosives has been found upon the inspection of a parcel found in a garbage dump at the Muslim Road in Matugama-Welipenna. The parcel has been discovered based on a tip-off received by the Western Province intelligence officer attached to Welipenna Police.

In another raid six women were arrested and two firearms were seized during a search operation in Karaitivu, Wanathawilluwa.

4 swords were found during a search operation in Nikewaretiya on Sunday and a suspect was arrested.

Communications equipment and a device were found in Pasyala which can operate 8 sims simultaneously in a raid on Monday.

Two suspects were arrested with mobile phones, 2 swords, 32 passports, an unregistered motorbike and 3 minivans in Theliyagonna, Muslim Village, Kurunegala.

Curfew in multiple areas in the country continued on Monday and was extended till Tuesday.

More terror threats

Some white feminine dresses were also found from one of the raid sites in Sainthamaruthu which, according to intelligence received by ITCT, could have been meant to be used to target Buddhist targets in Sri Lanka on Vesak festival, which is scheduled to take place on 19th May. This was further confirmed on Monday when Sri Lankan intelligence announced that there is a credible terrorist threat against Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.

 

The Sri Lankan intelligence agency said it has received inputs of possible attacks on Buddhist temples by female bombers of the banned local terror outfit National Thawheeth Jamath (NTJ) after police found white pairs of skirts and blouses from the house, which was raided after the explosion in Sainthamuruthu area in the Eastern province.

This raised suspicion that the attackers might pose as Buddhist devotees.

On March 29, Muslim women had spent 29,000 Sri Lankan rupees (USD 166) to purchase nine sets of such clothes from a textile shop in Giriulla, the report said.

The CCTV footage of the shop shows the visuals of these women who purchased clothes from the shop.

So far, five sets of white clothes have been found from this house and intelligence services are trying to find the remaining clothes.

On Sunday, personal security officers of three MPs received an internal memo from Sri Lankan police warning that there could be more attacks in the coming days, planned by the “same perpetrators” as those behind the Easter Sunday bombings.

Translation of the memo was tweeted by Sri Lanka based journalist Lisa Fuller:

A Sri Lankan MP also confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

 

Raid in Bangladesh kills two JMB terrorists

Bangladesh security forces raided a suspected Islamist extremist hideout in Dhaka on Monday killing at least two militants, it was reported by Defense Post.

Police commandos were met with gunfire on arriving at a house in the capital’s Bosila neighborhood after midnight on Monday, April 29, Lieutenant Colonel Ashique Billah told AFP.

This was followed by an explosion which demolished the walls of the house, the Rapid Action Battalion commander added.

“Our bomb disposal unit found the body parts of two militants in the house. The explosion was so powerful that it tore apart the bodies and shook the whole area,” he said.

Four other people were detained including a caretaker and imam from a nearby mosque, the officer added.

Monday’s raid came after police received information about the presence of suspected members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, the group that carried out the cafe attack, Reuters reported.

JMB was founded in Bangladesh in 1998 with the aim of establishing an Islamic state in Bangladesh. Weakened by security operations in the early 2000s that swept up hundreds of its purported members and saw its leadership executed, a faction of the organization called Neo-Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh re-emerged in the 2010s and refers to itself as “Islamic State Bangladesh.”

Although it has been featured in ISIS central propaganda, the faction is not thought to have been recognized official wilayat, or province, and the Bangladeshi government does not acknowledge an ISIS presence in the country.

As per intelligence received by ITCT, the raid was carried out in connection with Sri Lanka bombings.

 

 

Sri Lanka bans face coverings of all types

Any face covering that “hinders the identification of individuals in a way that threatens national security” is now banned in Sri Lanka, according to a statement from the country’s President.

“(President Maithripala Sirisena) has made this decision to strengthen national security as well as to not inconvenience any demographic group so as to create a peaceful and harmonious society in Sri Lanka,” said the presidential statement, which was released Sunday.
The ban took effect Monday, and applies to anything covering the face, which could include burqas, niqabs and helmets or masks.
“All sorts of face covers that hinders the identification of individuals in a way that threatens national security shall be banned with effect from 29 April 2019 as per Emergency Regulations,” the statement said.
“The order specifies that the base criterion for identification is the ability to see the face of an individual clearly.”

Notification announcing ban on face coverings

 

Jihadi John and Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed

Intelligence chiefs believe Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed, 36, was lured by Jihadi John to IS’  former “caliphate” in Syria for terror training. Abdul Lathief was one of the suicide bombers who carried out the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday bombings.

Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed

Mohammed Emwazi alias Jihadi John

In the former de facto capital, Raqqa, he is believed to have met the London-born ISIS killer known as Jihadi John, who was filmed beheading western hostages in Syria.

An intelligence source told The Sunday Times: “We’ve seen intelligence that connects him to [Mohamed] to a number of British terrorists who were in Syria, as well as to Jihadi John, around the time ISIS set up its caliphate.”

“The British jihadists seemed to be mentoring him through communication online and also  when he travelled to Syria.”

Abdul Lathief studied at Kingston University in South West London from 2006 after completing the first two years of an aerospace engineering degree at the Asian Aviation Centre in his native Colombo.

He lived in a former council house in Tooting, South London, from January 2006 and September 2007 while at uni and returned to visit in 2008.

He was meant to blow up the Taj Samudra Hotel but his suicide vest failed to detonate, an intelligence source told The Times. Mohamed then returned to a safe house in the city’s south to have his device repaired, and detonated it at a guesthouse near Colombo zoo, killing two people. Had he managed to set off the explosive at his first target, the casualties could have been far higher.

 

India announces travel alert

Taking note of the situation in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of Easter bombings, New Delhi on Saturday asked its citizens to avoid “non-essential travel” to the island nation.

“Indian nationals intending to travel to Sri Lanka are advised not to undertake non-essential travel,” read a press note from the MEA.

“In case of those undertaking essential/emergency travels, they can contact the High Commission of India in Colombo or the Assistant High Commission in Kandy / Consulates in Hambantota and Jaffna in case of requirement of any assistance. The helpline numbers of the Indian High Commission are available on the Mission’s website,” the note further read.

 

U.S. raises travel alert level for Sri Lanka

On Saturday, U.S. raised its travel alert for Sri Lanka from Level 2 to Level 3.

Updated US travel alert for Sri Lanka

 

 

Pakistan cricket tour to Sri Lanka cancelled

 Sri Lanka has called off the Under-19 series against Pakistan which was to start form May 3.

ESPNcricinfo reported on Saturday that the decision has been taken in view of the security situation that has emerged after deadly bombings on Sri Lanka that killed over 250 people last Sunday.

The report said Pakistan cricket authorities have been monitoring the situation and ready to undertake the   tour in future.

“The tour has been postponed indefinitely,” an SLC official confirmed to ESPNcricinfo. “It was a decision taken by SLC, as we didn’t want to take any chances,” ESPNcricinfo quoted an official of the Sri Lanka Cricket.

The Pakistan team was due to leave  for Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

 

Sri Lanka bans NTJ and JMI

Sri Lanka on Saturday banned local Islamist extremist outfit National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) and a splinter group, which are linked to the ISIS that has claimed the responsibility for the Easter bombings that left 253 people dead and several hundreds injured.

National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim, the mastermind behind the attacks, was killed inside the Shangri La hotel were he detonated himself.

President Maithripala Sirisena used emergency powers to ban the NTJ and a splinter group identified as Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI), a statement said.

“All movable and immovable property of these two organisations will be confiscated,” the statement said.

 

Complaint filed against Sri Lankan politician for claiming 11 soldiers dead in Kalmunai

A Sri Lankan politician said on local media that 11 Sri Lankan security personnel died in the operation in Kalmunai, a claim that is disputed by Sri Lankan government and security forces.

A complain was filed against the politician over the claim.

Complaint letter

 

Sri Lankan Christians angry 

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith urged that government carry out proper investigations into the terror attacks that took place on Easter Sunday (April 21st).

“Take proper legal action in this regard and do not let us take the law into our hands,” the Cardinal said, addressing a press conference held at the Catholic Archbishop’s House on Monday.

“We are not aware of the measures taken by the presidential commission appointed to probe the terror attacks, nor do we know if the commission even assembled,” the Cardinal complained.

Cardinal Ranjith expressed his displeasure over how security matters are being handled presently.

 

Islamic State chief al-Baghdadi talks about Sri Lanka in new video

On late Monday, a new video message of Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released by the official IS media wing al-Furqan where al-Baghdadi praises the attackers in Sri Lanka and accepts their pledge of allegiance, rejoicing that Americans and Europeans were among the dead.

 

al-Baghdadi’s acceptance of the pledge directly ties National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) with IS core.

About the Sri Lanka attacks, al-Baghdadi said:

“And as for your brothers in Sri Lanka, they have put joy in the hearts of the monotheists with their immersing operations that struck the homes
of the Crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghuz. The number of dead Crusaders had reached a thousand or more
casualties. This is part of the vengeance that awaits the Crusaders and their henchmen, Allah permitting. Praise be to Allah, among the dead
were Americans and Europeans.”

 

 

 

This story will continue to be updated in case of new information. 

 

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