The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for the deadly terrorist blasts in Sri Lanka, as investigations intensified into Sunday’s coordinated attacks that killed 321 people in churches and high-end hotels.
“Those who carried out the attack that targeted citizens belonging to the alliance countries and Christians in Sri Lanka are fighters with the Islamic State,” read a statement on IS news agency Amaq carried by SITE, which tracks groups.
“Alliance countries” refers to those involved in the US-led military coalition against the IS in Syria, which includes 79 nations from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, although Sri Lanka is not among them.
The US last month declared that the last swath of territory once held by the group in Iraq and Syria has been liberated.
It is too early to say the extent of involvement — if any — the IS group had in the planning and coordination of the attacks, said Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a researcher in London who tracks IS and maintains a database of the group’s archives.
“It’s possible they didn’t know about it in advance and like every one else they were following various reports,” al-Tamimi said. “As it began to point more and more toward IS supporters, they felt they could claim it.”
Interpol has joined the investigation to help identify potential international connections, with attention also focused on a second extremist group called Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen based in Bangladesh.
In a special session of the parliament yesterday, Sri Lankan State Minister of Defense and Mass Media Ruwan Wijewardene said that investigators were probing links between the local group National Thowheed Jama’ath and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen.
The bombings could have been retaliation for the terrorist attacks on two New Zealand mosques last month, he said.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last night addressed the media in Colombo and acknowledged the government needed to make policy changes in to “avoid security lapses.”
“The security apparatus is of the view that there are foreign links, and there is evidence that points to that,” Wickremesinghe said. “We will be following up on the claim by IS — there were some suspicions that there were links with IS.”
So far only Sri Lankan citizens had been taken in for questioning, he said, noting some may have traveled abroad and returned.
Wickremesinghe vowed that Sri Lanka would not allow the attacks to lead to another war, referring to the three-decade civil war that ended in 2009.
“The intelligence agencies have reported that there were international organizations behind these acts of local terrorists,” Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said in a statement. “Hence, it has been decided to seek international assistance for investigations.”
The government said that other nations had shared intelligence ahead of the blasts.
More than 40 suspects were in custody, national police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.
Authorities had received warnings, but “not enough attention had been paid,” Wickremesinghe said.
“There had been several warnings from foreign intelligence agencies about the impending attacks,” Sri Lankan Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine Rajitha Senaratne told a news conference in Colombo on Monday.
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