Foreign groups likely behind Sri Lanka
attacks, U.S. ambassador says
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[April 24, 2019]
By Sanjeev Miglani and Joe Brock
COLOMBO (Reuters) - The scale and
sophistication of the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in
Sri Lanka suggested the involvement of an external group such as Islamic
State, the U.S. ambassador said on Wednesday as the death toll jumped to
The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the
coordinated bomb attacks on churches and hotels but gave no evidence to
Sri Lankan officials have blamed two domestic Islamist groups with
suspected ties to Islamic State. Details have begun to emerge of a band
of nine, well-educated suicide bombers, including a woman, from
"If you look at the scale of the attacks, the level of coordination, the
sophistication of them, it's not implausible to think there are foreign
linkages," the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, told
reporters in Colombo.
"Exploring potential linkages is going to be part of (investigations),"
Teplitz said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S.
military were supporting the investigation.
"Our hope is that as a result of our joint efforts we’re going to roll
up the perpetrators and collaborators, trace the linkages and be able to
prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.”
Teplitz's comments came as Sri Lanka's junior defense minister, Ruwan
Wijewardene, conceded that there had been a significant intelligence
failure before the attacks, with reports of warnings of strikes not
acted on and feuds at the highest levels of government.
"It is a major lapse in the sharing of intelligence information,"
Wijewardene told a separate news conference.
"We have to take responsibility."
Lakshman Kiriella, the leader of parliament, said senior officials had
deliberately withheld intelligence about possible attacks.
"Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information
purposefully. Information was there, but the top brass security
officials did not take appropriate actions," Kiriella, who is also
minister of public enterprise, told parliament.
He said information about possible suicide attacks was received from
Indian intelligence on April 4 and a Security Council meeting was
chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena three days later but it was
not shared more widely.
Police earlier said the death toll had risen overnight to 359 from 321,
making it the deadliest such attack in South Asian history. About 500
people were wounded.
If the Islamic State connection is confirmed, it would be the deadliest
ever attack linked to the group.
The early Sunday bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed
in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu,
ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a
return to sectarian violence.
Sri Lanka's 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and
Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of
the island's conflict and communal tensions.
[to top of second column]
Friends and relatives carry the coffin of eight-month-old Mathew,
who died during a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and
luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, at his funeral in Negombo, Sri Lanka
April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Islamic State said through its AMAQ news agency on Tuesday the
assaults were carried out by seven attackers.
However, Wijewardene said there were in fact nine suicide bombers
involved in the attacks on three churches and four hotels. Eight had
been identified and one of them was a woman, he said.
"Most of the bombers are well-educated, come from economically
strong families. Some of them went abroad for studies," Wijewardene
"One of them we know went to the U.K., then went to Australia for a
law degree. Foreign partners, including the U.K., are helping us
with those investigations," he said.
Wijewardene told parliament on Tuesday two Sri Lankan Islamist
groups - the National Thawheed Jama'ut and Jammiyathul Millathu
Ibrahim - were responsible for the blasts. He said on Wednesday the
leader of one of those groups blew himself up in the attack on the
luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.
The attacks have already foreshadowed a shake-up of Sri Lankan
security forces, with Sirisena saying on Tuesday he planned to
change some of his defense chiefs after criticism that the
intelligence warnings were ignored.
A total of 60 people had been detained for questioning across
Colombo since Sunday, Wijewardene said. That total includes a
Syrian, according to security sources.
Police searched more homes overnight, leading to the detention of 18
The overnight raids included areas near the Gothic-style St
Sebastian church in Negombo, north of the capital, where scores were
killed on Sunday, a police spokesman said.
An unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka,
the scene of Muslim riots in 2014.
"Search operations are going on everywhere, there is tight checking
of Muslim areas," a security source said.
Most of those killed and wounded were Sri Lankans, although
officials said 38 foreigners were also killed. That included
British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch
and Portuguese nationals. Forty-five children were among the dead.
The government has imposed emergency rule and an overnight curfew.
It said it has also blocked online messaging services to stop the
spread of inflammatory rumors that it feared could incite communal
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)
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