Sri Lankan officials say radical domestic group responsible for suicide bombings

Suicide bombers part of a domestic militant group that might have international ties coordinated and carried out a string of deadly bombings at churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, the country’s health minister said Monday.

Seven members of the radical Muslim group, National Thowfeek Jamaath, killed at least 290 people and injured 500 more on Easter Sunday in the South Asian island nation, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said.

Senaratne also said the country’s top officials had been told earlier this month an attack by the group was possible. International intelligence agencies began warning the country’s officials on April 4, and on April 9 the defense ministry included the group’s name in a warning to the police chief, Senaratne said.

It was unclear what action would be take in response, but Seranatne said the country’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet were unaware of the intelligence until after the attacks due to political dysfunction.

The bombers were all Sri Lankan, but international influence is suspected.

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne said, according to Reuters. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

Two dozen suspects were in custody for questioning Monday, officials said. A total of nine bombings took place Sunday in the deadliest instance of violence in Sri Lanka since a civil war ended a decade ago.

Officials have found 87 bomb detonators in Colombo, the country’s capital. Twelve detonators were at the main bus depot and 75 more in garbage dump. A van parked near one of the churches hit in the bombings also exploded Monday when police tried to defuse three bombs, but there were no injuries.

A forensic crime analyst told the Associated Press that an analysis of the attackers’ body parts collected from the scenes shows that the attacks were suicide bombings. 

Two people were involved in the attack at the Shangri-La hotel. One bomber each attacked the Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels and St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s church in the city of Negombo and Zion Church in the city of Batticaloa.

Hours later, two bombings took place at a guesthouse and near an overpass on the outskirts of Colombo  Suspects detonated explosives at a safe house near the overpass blast, killing three officers.

Most of the dead were Sri Lankan, but at least 39 foreign tourists were killed in the attacks, tourism minister John Amaratunga said. “Several” Americans were among the deceased.

The U.S. State Department had issued a travel advisory warning Americans to “exercise increased caution” over terrorism concerns.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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