The Sri Lankan government has blamed a domestic Islamist group, National Thowfeek Jamaath, for carrying out the Easter Sunday attacks. The local jihadi group may have the backing of foreign terrorist networks, a leading government official said.

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said. “We are now investigating the international support for them, and their other links, how they produced the suicide bombers here, and how they produced bombs like this.”

A series of suicide bombings on churches and hotels killed at least 290 people and left 500 more injured. Around 39 foreigners, including “several” U.S. nationals, are also among the dead, the U.S. State Department confirmed. Anders Holch Povlsen, the Dutch billionaire and owner of the clothing retailer Asos, lost three of his four children in Sunday’s bombing.

All seven suicide bombers have been identified as Sri Lankan nationals. Authorities were withholding the names of the attackers, but local news outlets named Abu Mohammad and Zahran Hashim as two of the dead suicide bombers.

Local newspaper Ceylon Today reported the revelations made by the Sri Lankan government:

The Sri Lankan Government believes a local Islamist extremist group called the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) was behind the deadly suicide bomb attacks that killed nearly 300 people, Government Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said Monday (22).

Senaratne, who is also a Cabinet Minister, added that the Government was investigating whether the group had “international support”.

Documents seen by AFP show Sri Lanka’s Police Chief issued a warning on 11 April, saying that a “foreign intelligence agency” had reported NTJ was planning attacks on churches and the Indian High Commission.

Not much is known about the NTJ, a radical Muslim group that has been linked to the vandalising of Buddhist statues.

A Police source told AFP that all 24 people in custody in connection with the attacks belong to an “extremist” group, but did not specify further.

The Easter Sunday massacre is the worst act of violence in the country since the bloody Tamil-Sinhalese ethnic conflict that ended almost ten years ago.

The government may have had prior warning of the attacks. The country’s police chief had alerted top government officials on an impending Islamist terror attack on Christian churches just ten days ahead of the strike. “A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ [National Thowheeth Jama’ath] is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” the police chief Pujuth Jayasundara noted in an official communique dated April 11.

Sir Lanka’s leading Catholic clergy, the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, described the attackers as “animals” who needed to be punished “mercilessly.” “I would also like to ask the government to hold a very impartial, strong inquiry and find out who is responsible for this act and also to punish them mercilessly, because only animals can behave like that,” Cardinal Ranjith said. The response was in sharp contrast with the remarks made by Pope Francis who prayed “for those who have tragically perished” in his Easter address.

The Sri Lankan government has imposed a state of emergency and shut down Facebook and other social media platforms “to prevent incorrect and wrong information” from spreading. The authorities are desperately trying to prevent the repeat of the 2018 anti-Muslim riots that began after reports of forced conversion of local Buddhists to Islam and the desecration of ancient religious sites.

Buddhists make up for about 75 percent of the population, while the Muslims count for around 10 percent of the country’s 22 million population. Christians form the smallest religious minority on the island nation, with most of the country’s seven percent Christians identifying as Catholic.

Video: Sri Lanka identifies Islamist terror group National Thowfeek Jamaath in Easter bombings


[Cover image via YouTube]