The serial bomb attacks on Easter Sunday, which claimed over 320 lives in Sri Lanka, were a retaliation for the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand on March 15, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament on Tuesday, based on “initial evidence” available with investigators.
Also on Tuesday, over 48 hours after the coordinated blasts, the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, media reports said, citing the group’s AMAQ news agency. Sri Lanka had on Monday said a local Islamist radical organisation, the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), was responsible for the attacks but suspected it had links with international groups.
“Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the U.S.-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State group fighters,” a statement released by AMAQ said, according to the news agency AFP.
At least 45 children were killed in the blasts, UNICEF said. Among those killed were 34 foreign nationals, including 10 Indians. The family of one of the victims is yet to establish contact with Indian mission. One more victim is believed to be Indian but the person’s identity yet to be ascertained, according to Colombo-based official sources.
Alert for more attacks
Even as Sri Lanka tried coming to terms with the brutal killings, holding mass funerals in Negombo near Colombo, and special prayer services, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe indicated that the threat of further attacks remained. The police and military remained on high alert after reports of an unidentified container truck and a van in Colombo, believed to be carrying explosives.
A few more suspects, some of whom are believed to possess explosives, were “still on the run,” Mr. Wickremesinghe told mediapersons. “We have to anticipate [their moves] and we are working accordingly,”
On whether Sri Lanka had evidence to corroborate IS involvement, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the security apparatus suspected the NTJ had links with international groups, including the IS.
Further, The Hindu has learnt that an India-based hotel had also been a target on Sunday. But the suspected bomber who, according to sources familiar with the investigations, was spotted in the vicinity, reportedly left the area, where security had been tightened. Later, investigators established that the same person had blown himself up at a small hotel in a Colombo suburb. The explosion was identified as the seventh that day, where two persons were reported dead.
Mr. Wickremesinghe confirmed that India had offered “specific intelligence” on the imminent threat and said many countries including the United States and United Kingdom have offered to assist Sri Lanka in the investigations. “Some of their teams are coming in,” he added.
Asked if investigators had traced “Mohammed Zaharan”, reportedly the leader of the NTJ and said to be absconding, Mr. Wickremesinghe said investigators suspected he was among those killed in the blasts, executed by a team of suicide bombers, but his death was yet to be verified.