No evidence Islamic State had foreknowledge of Sri Lanka bombings, says official

Sri Lanka Easter bombingsIt is not at all clear that the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claimed responsibility of the Sri Lanka bombings in April, had foreknowledge of the attacks, according to a top official. The militant Sunni group claimed it was behind the nine suicide blasts that targeted Catholic churches and five-star hotels in Sri Lanka’s western and eastern coastal regions on April 21. The near-simultaneous bombings killed 258 people and injured over 500. They are believed to constitute the bloodiest terrorist attack in the country’s history. Interestingly, many questioned the authenticity of the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility, which came a full two days following the deadly blasts. The group typically issues statements immediately following attacks by its followers around the world. The 48-hour delay in the case of the Sri Lanka bombings, therefore, was deemed “uncharacteristic” by some experts.

Now The Hindu, India’s most-circulated English-language daily, has claimed that the Islamic State probably became aware of the Sri Lanka attacks after they happened. The Islamic State’s news agency, Amaq, issued a statement of responsibility, accompanied by a video showing the suicide bombers pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi. But The Hindu has quoted “a senior official […] familiar with the probe” into the attacks, who claims that the militant group was contacted by its followers in Sri Lanka only after the attacks made international news headlines. A local Salafi jihadist communicated with the Islamic State on behalf of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), the local group that carried out the bombings. The Islamic State then secured the video of the suicide bombers “through a third party”, said the senior official. Sri Lankan Salafi jihadists eventually convinced the militant group to issue a statement endorsing the attacks in order to “honor those who sacrificed their lives” for the Islamic State’s cause, said the source. It follows, said the official, that the local suicide bombers “were all sympathizers of the Islamic State. But it remains unclear how they maintained links with the Islamic State, if in fact they did”, he added.

The deadly attacks continue to dominate the headlines in Sri Lanka, despite the passage of more than two months since they occurred. Three separate investigations have been launched by the government —one by former Supreme Court judges appointed by the president; one by the Sri Lankan parliament; and one by the country’s police and security services. None of these probes have uncovered evidence that the NTJ militants were in contact with the Islamic State before they launched their wave of suicide attacks on April 21, said The Hindu.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2019 | Permalink

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Video shows alleged Sri Lanka suicide bombers posing with ISIS flags

National Thowheeth Jama'ath NTJA video posted online by supporters of the Sunni militant group Islamic State appears to show the suicide bombers who carried out Sunday’s bloody attacks in Sri Lanka posing alongside Islamic State flags. Three Catholic churches and three five-star hotels were targeted on Easter Sunday by a total of nine separate blasts, which killed nearly 260 people and injured over 500. The near-simultaneous attacks struck locations in Sri Lanka’s western and eastern coasts and are believed to constitute the bloodiest terrorist attack in the country’s history.

All seven suicide bombers who carried out Sunday’s attacks have been identified as Sri Lankan nationals and members of the Sunni jihadist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ). The Sri Lankan group has claimed responsibility for no more than a handful of mostly sabotage-themed operations in its three-year history. It is believed to have been established by hardline Islamists in 2016. It made its first public appearance in 2018, in response to a series of anti-Muslim pogroms that were led by Sinhalese Buddhists in the island country. There are reports suggesting that Sunday’s blasts were part of a much wider operation aimed at destabilizing Sri Lanka. Police said they found nearly 100 bomb detonators at the Central Colombo bus station on Monday, while an unexploded bomb was found inside a parked vehicle at another church in the Sri Lankan capital. An unexploded pipe bomb was also discovered in the vicinity of the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo on Sunday night.

Indian intelligence officials were the first to openly draw a connection between Sunday’s attacks and the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). One Indian official told the Hong Kong-based Asia Times newspaper that “the NTJ were only foot soldiers and the controllers were someone else”. On Monday, a video appeared on an online channel associated with supporters of ISIS, which contains a montage of the aftermath of Sunday’s attacks, interspersed with still images of masked men brandishing rifles in front of ISIS flags. The video names the men and implies they carried out the suicide blasts. The video claims to come from ISIS and issues threats against “Crusaders” —an anti-Western term often used by Sunni jihadists. The video also warns that the Islamic State’s “armies remain everywhere and [continue to] blast the fortresses of the infidels”.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency on Monday night, which is expected to last several weeks. The announcement of the state of emergency was made by the country’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, following a meeting of the National Security Council, which he chaired.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 April 2019 | Permalink