Investigator says attackers were inspired by, but not directly linked to, militant group
Sri Lanka’s Easter attacks that killed 258 people were carried out by local Islamists who drew inspiration from but were not linked to the Islamic State group, a top investigator said on Wednesday.
Ravi Seneviratne, the head of the Criminal Investigations Department, said the suicide bombers who targeted three churches and three hotels had no direct link to the foreign jihadi group. “They followed the I.S. ideology, but our investigations have not shown any link between them,” Seneviratne told a parliamentary panel probing security and intelligence lapses leading to the April 21 bombings. He noted that remnants the local group identified as National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) had persuaded I.S. to claim the attack two days after the deadly events in Sri Lanka.
NTJ leader Zahran Hashim had made a video with his fellow suicide bombers pledging allegiance to I.S. leader Abu Bakr Al-Bagdadi. The video was released by I.S. two days later.
Within five days of the attack, police raided the location where the NTJ recorded the video and recovered the I.S. flag they used as a backdrop. The NTJ had also used the same type of explosives that I.S. was known to have used in its attacks.
Sri Lanka was tipped off of an impending attack by Indian authorities based on information from an Islamic extremist in their custody.
Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujith Jayasundara and top defense ministry bureaucrat Hemasiri Fernando are currently facing criminal charges over their alleged negligence to prevent an attack.
Several NTJ operatives were known to have traveled to India to meet with fellow extremists there, according to the Sri Lankan military. They have said that the NTJ may have received foreign expertise in assembling what is known as “Mother of Satan” bombs, which contain triacetone triperoxide, or TATP.
Another investigator, Shani Abeysekara, told the same parliamentary panel Wednesday that the CID had found 105 kilograms of explosives from a NTJ hideout earlier this year. “If not for this discovery, they would have been able to cause much more damage,” Abeysekara said adding that they were already investigating the NTJ when the attacks took place.
President Maithripala Sirisena has said the attacks were the work of international drug dealers to sabotage his anti-narcotics drive.