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April 23, 2019

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Radical Muslim group behind blasts

SRI Lanka said yesterday it believed a local Islamist extremist group was behind deadly suicide bomb blasts that killed nearly 300 people as it announced a national state of emergency beginning midnight.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said investigators were looking at whether the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group had “international support” for the deadly Easter Sunday attacks on churches and luxury hotels.

Wary of stirring ethnic and religious tensions, officials have provided few details about 24 people arrested since the attacks.

Not much is known about the NTJ, but documents seen by AFP show Sri Lanka’s police chief issued a warning on April 11, saying a “foreign intelligence agency” had reported the group was planning attacks on churches and the Indian high commission.

The group has previously been linked to the vandalizing of Buddhist statues.

“We don’t see that only a small organization in this country can do all that,” said Senaratne.

“We are now investigating the international support for them, and their other links ... how they produced the suicide bombers here, and how they produced bombs like this.”

The death toll from Sunday’s attacks rose dramatically yesterday to 290, including dozens of foreigners, in the country’s worst attacks for over a decade.

More than 500 people were injured in the assault that saw suicide bombers hit three high-end hotels popular with foreign tourists, and three churches, unleashing carnage in Colombo and beyond.

Two additional blasts were triggered as security forces carried out raids searching for suspects.

And as tension remained high, police reported a fresh explosion as they attempted to defuse another suspected bomb found yesterday near one of the three churches targeted. There were no further details, but police earlier also reported finding 87 bomb detonators scattered on the ground at a bus station and a nearby garbage dump.

International intelligence agencies warned of the attacks several times starting on April 4, Senaratne said.

On April 9, the defense ministry wrote to the police chief with intelligence that included the group’s name, he said. On April 11, police wrote to the heads of security of the judiciary and diplomatic security division, Senaratne said.

It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken in response. Authorities said little was known about the group except that its name had appeared in intelligence reports.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s office said a state of emergency “limited to counter terrorism regulations only” would be introduced.

“This is being done to allow the police and the three forces to ensure public security,” the statement said, referring to the army, navy and air force.

Officials said Sirisena would seek international assistance in the investigation.

The US State Department, meanwhile, warned of further attacks in a revised travel advisory, urging increased caution.


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