‘Sophistication’ of Sri Lanka attacks suggests foreign help: ambassador

The scale and sophistication of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka that claimed 359 lives suggested the involvement of an external group such as ISIS, the US ambassador said Wednesday.

The terror group has claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on three churches and four hotels, as details have begun to emerge of a group of nine, well-educated suicide bombers from well-to-do families.

Sri Lankan authorities have also blamed two domestic Islamist groups with suspected ties to ISIS for the carnage.

“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,” US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz told reporters in the capital of Colombo.

“Exploring potential linkages is going to be part of (investigations),” she said.

The FBI and military were supporting the investigation, she said. Britain also was also sending a team to assist, Sri Lankan officials told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena asked the national police chief and defense secretary of defense to step down Wednesday.

His directive comes amid accusations within the government of intelligence failures before the attacks.

“I will completely restructure the police and security forces in the coming weeks. I expect to change the heads of defense establishments within the next 24 hours,” Sirisena said a televised address to the nation on Tuesday.

Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister, acknowledged there had been a significant intelligence failure before the attacks, with reports of warnings not acted on and feuds at the highest levels of the government.

“It is a major lapse in the sharing of intelligence information,” Wijewardene told a news conference. “We have to take responsibility.”

Parliament leader Lakshman Kiriella said senior officials had deliberately withheld intelligence about possible attacks.

“Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully … the top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions,” Kiriella told parliament.

He said information about possible attacks was received from Indian intelligence on April 4 and that a Security Council meeting was chaired by Sirisena three days later — but it was not shared more widely.

Wijewardene told parliament on Tuesday that two Sri Lankan Islamist groups – the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim – were responsible for the blasts.

On Wednesday, he said the leader of one of the groups blew himself up in the attack on the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

A total of 60 people had been held for questioning across Colombo since Sunday, Wijewardene said. That total includes a Syrian, according to security officials.

At least 18 more people have been detained after police searched more homes overnight.

The overnight raids included areas near the St. Sebastian church in Negombo, north of the capital, where scores were killed Sunday, a police spokesman said.

An unspecified number of people also were detained in western Sri Lanka, where anti-Muslim riots took place in 2014.

“Search operations are going on everywhere, there is tight checking of Muslim areas,” a security source said.

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