Sri Lanka believes ‘international network’ was behind attacks

Government assumes emergency powers as death toll climbs to at least 290

in Negombo, Sri Lanka, relatives mourn during the wake of an 11-year-old who was standing in line for Communion on Sunday when she was killed in one of the blasts. Photograph: Adam Dean/The New York Times

in Negombo, Sri Lanka, relatives mourn during the wake of an 11-year-old who was standing in line for Communion on Sunday when she was killed in one of the blasts. Photograph: Adam Dean/The New York Times

 

Sri Lankan officials believe the co-ordinated bombings of churches and hotels across the country on Easter Sunday was carried out by National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a little-known radical Islamist group, with help from international militants.

Rajitha Senaratne, the Sri Lankan health minister, blamed the group at a news conference in the capital, Colombo, adding: “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

The government announced that it was assuming emergency powers in order to investigate the attacks. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed for the second consecutive night.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Yesterday, officials said the death toll had risen to at least 290, with about 500 others wounded. Sri Lankan authorities have so far arrested two dozen suspects.

The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that, 10 days before the attacks, police warned security officials of a possible threat to churches by National Thowheeth Jama’ath. Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he and other top government officials had not been informed of the threat and that “we must look into why adequate precautions were not taken”.

Seven suicide bombers

A forensic analysis by the Sri Lankan government of human remains found at three churches and three hotels determined that seven suicide bombers had carried out the attacks.

In interviews, counterterrorism experts said such an extensively planned and co-ordinated attack would almost certainly have required considerable financing and expertise from a more experienced group overseas.

National Thowheeth Jama’ath is a small but violent group of young Muslims that started at least three years ago in eastern Sri Lanka. Until now it was known mainly for vandalising Buddhist statues.

Counterterrorism experts said that in Sri Lanka, National Thowheeth Jama’ath appeared to consist almost entirely of young people, especially recent graduates of Islamic schools. The group appears to have little hierarchy or organisational structure and no older leaders.

At least 30 foreigners are among the 290 confirmed fatalities in the targeted blasts at luxury hotels and churches on the island, including those from the UK, China, Turkey, Japan, the Netherlands, China, Portugal, Australia and India.

Three children of the Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen died in Sunday’s attacks. It is not known which of the four children survived the bombings.

The Holch Povlsens, who also own the online clothing retailer Asos, are Scotland’s largest largest private landowners and are trying to restore the Highlands in a huge rewilding programme across Sutherland and the Grampian mountains. – New York Times, PA