Muslim brothers from a wealthy Sri Lankan family plotted and carried out two of the Easter suicide blasts in Colombo, police sources said on Tuesday amid growing questions on whether the attackers received foreign help.
The two sons of a Colombo spice trader were among suicide bombers who hit three churches and three luxury hotels, investigators said. An attack on a fourth hotel failed and helped lead police to the Islamist group now blamed for the assault, they added in comments later confirmed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The brothers, whose names have not been revealed, were in their late twenties and operated their own “family cell”, an investigation officer said.
Members of NTJ
The pair were members of the Islamist National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) group, which the government has blamed for the attacks.
One brother checked into the Cinnamon Grand hotel and the other the Shangri-La on Saturday.
The next morning, at virtually the same time, they went to the hotels’ Easter Sunday breakfast buffets and blew up explosives-laden backpacks, the officer said.
Another bomb tore through a restaurant at the nearby Kingsbury hotel. Similar explosions devastated three churches.
Another would-be suicide bomber was in a fourth hotel in Colombo, said an official source. “This man had also checked into the hotel the previous day,” the source said. It was not known if his explosives failed or he had a change of heart.
But after the Shangri-la blast, staff became suspicious and the man was tracked to a residence near the capital. He blew himself up when confronted by police, the source said. Two bystanders were also killed.
“What we have seen from the CCTV footage is that all the suicide bombers were carrying very heavy backpacks. These appear to be crude devices made locally,” the source said. The whereabouts of the brothers’ parents was unknown. But the blasts had a further impact on the family.
One brother gave false identity details when he checked into the hotel, the investigator said. The other gave a real address which led police commandos to their family home in a commercial area of Colombo.
“When the Special Task Force went there to investigate, one brother’s wife set off explosives killing herself and her two children,” the officer said. “It was a single terror cell operated by one family,” the investigator said.
“They had the cash and the motivation. They operated the cell and it is believed they influenced their extended family.”
Spice export business
Three police commandos were also killed in the blast, and several extended family members are among those in detention. The brothers had been involved in their father’s lucrative spice export business, investigators said.
It was not known if they were in contact with the other bombers, however.
A focus of the inquiry will be any foreign influence in their radicalisation and how the children of such a wealthy family had become involved, an official source said.
“What we have gathered so far is that they had indicated to their close family what they were going to do,” another senior police officer said. “It looks like they were inspired by foreign terrorist groups, but to what extent they had direct links is still unclear.”