Easter attacks probe nearly complete, says top official

A total of 69 key suspects have been arrested over the past four weeks.

May 25, 2019 09:22 pm | Updated December 03, 2021 08:53 am IST - COLOMBO

Sri Lankan army soldiers during a search operation in Mattegoda, Sri Lanka, on Saturday, May 25, 2019.

Sri Lankan army soldiers during a search operation in Mattegoda, Sri Lanka, on Saturday, May 25, 2019.

Sri Lankan authorities have nearly completed the investigation into the April 21 Easter terror attacks, according to a top source familiar with the probe.

A total of 69 key suspects have been arrested over the past four weeks. “We are looking for just two more of them in this connection. It appears that they are in Saudi Arabia,” the senior official told The Hindu on Saturday.

Troops have also launched a hunt to nab a wider network of radical Islamists that they suspect, may be linked to Easter bombers. Sri Lanka police's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) are leading the probe, while military intelligence is also closely following the case. Experts from at least eight countries have been assisting the Sri Lankan investigators, officials said.

Of the 69 arrested suspects, not all had direct links with the nine suicide bombers. “Some of them were indirectly connected, they are being interrogated. Even the two who are on the run were not directly linked. But still, we want them,” said the official who asked not to be named, due to the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation.

A month after the ghastly attacks that claimed 258 lives in multiple attacks, authorities said they have established how the plot evolved and the different actors came in. A detailed report, including a compilation of evidence gathered, is being prepared. While authorities have not ruled out the involvement of an “external element” possibly linked to the IS – which claimed the attacks -- there is no evidence yet to corroborate the suspicion.

Further, the probe has revealed that not all in the network wanted to be suicide bombers. “Some of them were merely sympathisers,” said the official. Even Zahran Hashim’s wife, investigators said, was not ready to blow herself up for their “cause”. Abdul Cader Fathima Hadiya and her four-year-old-daughter survived the suicide bombings in the eastern town of Sainthamaruthu, in which 15 persons died even as troops enclosed their safehouse following an overnight gun battle. “She sensed that her brother-in -law [Zahran Hashim’s brother] was about to blast the explosives strapped to him, she ran to another room with her daughter and started praying,” the source said.

Meanwhile, evidence available so far does not show that the bombers maintained any significant links with India, the official said, apparently contradicting the Sri Lankan army commander’s earlier claim that they likely travelled to Indian cities.

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