ISIS claims responsibility for Sri Lanka blasts, identifies attackers who carried out the suicide bombings
The ISIS said the attackers targeted citizens of the US-led coalition fighting IS and referred to Easter as an 'infidel holiday'. Now the UNICEF says that at least 45 children were killed in the Easter attacks.
COLOMBO: The Islamic State group has now released a photo of the man the Sri Lanka government has identified as the leader of the Easter attacks, asserting its claim of responsibility for the assault which killed more than 320 people.
The ISIS group released the photo Tuesday evening through its Aamaq news agency. Sri Lankan authorities have blamed the militant Muslim group National Thowfeek Jamaath for the attack. Its leader, named Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online.
Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said authorities suspected links to the group but were still investigating.
The ISIS put out a detailed statement on its Aamaq news agency late Tuesday detailing where each attacker was allegedly deployed. It gave only the nom de guerre of each attacker and didn't specify their nationalities. The group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility. It had earlier offered no photographs or videos of attackers pledging their loyalty to the group, which often have accompanied such claims.
The militant group said six were suicide bombers who "immersed" themselves among the victims before blowing up their vests. It said one attacker clashed with police in Dematagoda. The group said the attackers targeted citizens of the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS and referred to Easter as an "infidel holiday."
The UNICEF has also commented on the death toll in the blasts. The UN children's agency says at least 45 children were killed in the Easter attacks. UNICEF said Tuesday that 27 children died and 10 were injured in the bombing of St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo. It said 13 children died in blasts in Batticaloa and 15 were injured. The agency says that among foreign victims, five were children. Twenty children have also been hospitalized in Colombo. UNICEF also says many children lost one or both parents in the attacks and would need psychological treatment.
Earlier during the day, Sri Lanka's prime minister warned that there are more explosives and militants "out there" after Easter suicide bombings. Ranil Wickremesinghe made the comment Tuesday at a news conference and said some officials will likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses surrounding the attack. Wickremesinghe acknowledged there was a prior warning, and said India's embassy was eyed as a possible target. The toll from the coordinated bombings at churches, luxury hotels and other sites now stands at 321 dead and 500 wounded. He said a planned attack at a fourth hotel failed and that the leader of a local militant group blamed for the assault may have led the attacks and been killed.
After Sri Lankan claims that the attack was in response to New Zealand mosque bombings, the office of New Zealand's prime minister says she is aware of comments linking Sri Lanka's Easter bombings to the mosque attacks in Christchurch, though it hasn't "seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based."
The statement came Tuesday after Sri Lanka's minister of defense, Ruwan Wijewardene, made the claim to Parliament, without offering evidence. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office also added that it understood "the Sri Lankan investigation into the attack is in its early stages." The Christchurch shootings killed 50 people in March.
After the deadly attacks, authorities in Sri Lanka are further increasing security measures. Police issued orders Tuesday that anyone parking a car on the street and leaving unattended must put a note with their phone number on the windscreen. Postal officials meanwhile said they would no longer accept pre-wrapped parcels for mailing. The country is under a state of emergency and the military is operating under enhanced war-time powers following the attacks.
As investigations regarding the incident are proceeding, it has come to light that a warning shared with Sri Lankan security agencies on April 11 said a local group was planning a suicide terror attack against churches in Sri Lanka. Priyalal Disanayaka, the deputy inspector general of police, signed the letter addressed to the directors of four Sri Lankan security agencies. He asked the four security directors to "pay extra attention" to the places and VIPs in their care.
The intelligence report attached to his letter called the group National Towheed Jamaar, said it was targeting "some important churches" in a suicide terrorist attack that was planned to take place "shortly." The report named six individuals likely to be involved in the plot. On Monday, Sri Lanka's health minister held up a copy of the report while describing its contents, spurring questions about what Sri Lanka police had done to protect the public from an attack.
As a state of emergency took effect Tuesday giving the Sri Lankan military war-time powers, police arrested 40 suspects, including the driver of a van allegedly used by the suicide bombers and the owner of a house where some of them lived.
Sri Lanka's president gave the military a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects — powers that were used during the 26-year civil war but withdrawn when it ended in 2009. President Maithripala Sirisena has declared a day of mourning for Tuesday, a day after officials disclosed that warnings had been received weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by the radical Muslim group blamed for the bloodshed.