2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings

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2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings
Part of terrorism in Sri Lanka, persecution of Christians in the modern era, and terrorism linked to ISIL
Three of the major targets. Clockwise from upper left: St. Anthony's Shrine, The Kingsbury, Shangri-La Hotel
Location of bombings in Colombo City

LocationChurches Hotels Housing complex
Date21 April 2019 (2019-04-21)
TargetChristians and tourists
Attack type
Suicide bombings[1]
WeaponsRDX and acetone peroxide, Explosive Shrapnel
Deaths258[2]
Non-fatal injuries
500+[3]
PerpetratorsNine suicide bombers[4]
Suspected perpetrators
150 arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act[8][9]
InquiryPresident Sirisena invoked emergency laws, providing police extensive powers; the president later stated that emergency laws would be confined to dealing with the current terrorism threat and would not be used to impinge freedom of expression[10]
ChargesNine individuals charged with supplying paraphernalia used in connection with an act of terrorism due to appear in Colombo Magistrates Court on 6 May 2019[11]

On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, three churches in Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in the commercial capital Colombo were targeted in a series of coordinated terrorist suicide bombings. Later that day, there were smaller explosions at a housing complex in Dematagoda and a guest house in Dehiwala. 258 people were killed, including at least 46 foreign nationals[12] and three police officers, and at least 500 were injured.[a] The church bombings were carried out during Easter services in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo; the hotels that were bombed were the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and Tropical Inn.[b]

According to Sri Lankan government officials, all seven of the suicide bombers in the attacks were Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheeth Jama'ath, a local militant Islamist group with suspected foreign ties, previously known for attacks against Buddhists and Sufis.[5][22] State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said in parliament on 23 April that the government believed the attack was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch on 15 March 2019.[c] The direct linkage between the two attacks was questioned by New Zealand's government and by some experts.[27][28][29]

On 23 April 2019, Amaq News Agency, a propaganda outlet for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), stated that ″the perpetrators of the attack targeting the citizens of coalition countries and Christians in Sri Lanka were Islamic State fighters″.[7] Sri Lanka was not part of the anti-ISIL coalition, and the overwhelming majority of those killed were Sri Lankan citizens.[30] A man believed to be long-silent ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi praised the attackers during an 18-minute video on a range of topics.[31]

Background[edit]

Historically, terrorism in Sri Lanka mostly involved coordinated attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against the government and army during the Sri Lankan Civil War, which began in 1983. The LTTE was defeated in 2009 in its effort to violently seize control of the northern and eastern coasts of the island from the Sinhalese ethnic majority to create an independent Tamil state. The Marxist-Leninist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) also held uprisings in 1971 and 1987–89.[32][33][34]

The main religions in Sri Lanka are Buddhism (70.3%), Hinduism (12.6%), Islam (9.7%) and Christianity (6.1%),[35] with 82% of the Christians being Roman Catholics. The remaining Christians are evenly split between the Anglican Church of Ceylon and other Protestant denominations.[36]

During the 2010s, a low but persisting number of attacks and threats were made against Christian congregations and individuals, as well as other religious minorities.[37][38] Anglican Bishop of Colombo Dhiloraj Canagasabey called for constitutional rights on religion to be protected.[39] In 2018, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) reported a large increase in the number of attacks against Christians in the country that year. This coincided with a Supreme Court ruling against a Catholic organisation in August, which deemed that proselytism was not protected by the constitution (though individual freedom of religion remained protected).[40][41]

Easter Sunday is one of Christianity's holiest days and church attendance in Sri Lanka is very high on this day.[42] This was the first time since 2009, the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, that the country had experienced a major terrorist attack.[43]

Islamic radicalisation[edit]

The Sri Lankan government was aware of some foreigners arriving in Sri Lanka to spread what justice minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe called Islamic extremism. In November 2016 he told parliament that 32 Sri Lankan Muslims from "well-educated and elite" families joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.[44] On 25 April 2019, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe revealed that the government had known of the Sri Lankan nationals who had joined Islamic State and returned to the country — but they couldn’t be arrested, because joining a foreign terrorist organisation is not against the law.[45][46][47]

Prior to the attacks[edit]

Vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka Hilmy Ahamed had said about three years ago he warned military intelligence officials about the National Thowheeth Jama'ath, saying "targeting the non-Muslim community is something they encourage -- they say you have to kill them in the name of religion".[48]

The information on potential terrorist attacks were received by Sri Lankan authorities as early as 4 April on the night before and as close as two hours before the first attack, warning on threats to churches, from Indian Intelligence Agencies based on interrogation of a suspected ISIL recruit.[49][50]

The New York Times and AFP reported on a police chief warning security officials in an advisory ten days before the attacks of a threat to prominent churches from a radical Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama'ath.[51] No information in this regard had been passed to the senior politicians of the country;[52][53] Minister Harin Fernando then tweeted images of an internal memo and report by the police intelligence of a terror attack planned by the founder of National Thowheeth Jama’ath, Mohammed Zahran.[54]

Attacks[edit]

Christians were attending Easter Sunday services when the bombings took place, targeting churches and hotels around Sri Lanka. The sequence and coordination of the bombings were planned to cause maximum destruction, targeting Christians during worship services across the island nation, and targeting guests at the height of breakfast in luxurious beachfront hotels in the capital. All six of the first set of blasts targeting the churches and hotels were carried out by suicide bombers.[52]

The first blast took place in the Shrine of St. Anthony, a historic Catholic church in the capital, where more than 50 people were killed. The second blast took place in St.Sebastian's Church in the Christian-majority suburb of Negombo, to the north of Colombo and Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte.[55] Over 100 people were killed at St. Sebastian's Church.[56] St. Sebastian's is also close to Sri Lanka's main airport, Bandaranaike International Airport, where security was heightened.[52]

On the other side of the island in Batticaloa, a bomb blast 15 minutes later killed 28 people at the Protestant evangelical Zion Church.[57]

Sri Lankan media reported at least 40 people killed in Colombo, between St. Anthony's and the hotels.[58][59]

Timeline of the bombings[60]
Time (UTC+05:30) Locations[61][62]
8:25 AM

Negombo: St.Sebastian's Church

8:45 AM Colombo: Shrine of St. Anthony Church
9:05 AM Batticaloa: Zion Church
9.15 - 9.20 AM
2:00 PM Dehiwala: Tropical Inn
2:15 PM Dematagoda: Housing complex

Churches[edit]

The Catholic Shrine of St. Anthony in Kotahena, Colombo, was the first to be hit, followed by the Catholic Church of St. Sebastian in Negombo.[63] Sri Lankan news media reported at least 93 people killed at St. Sebastian's.[58][59]

The Zion Church in Batticaloa, a Protestant congregation, was also bombed.[51] Local news reported at least 27 killed in Batticaloa,[58][59] with 9 of these reported by a police official to be tourists.[18] A hospital official in the region said that more than 300 people had been admitted following the explosion.[20] The BBC reported that the suicide bomber had attempted to enter the church under the guise of filming it, but was denied access because of the ongoing service. Instead, he detonated his bomb in the churchyard, killing many children from the attached Sunday school who were taking a break.[64]

Hotels[edit]

Three 5-star hotels on the beachfront in central Colombo were attacked around the same time as the churches: the Shangri-La Hotel, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel and The Kingsbury.[13][65]

The Shangri-La bombers struck at 08:57 hours (UTC+05:30) during breakfast in the Table One Restaurant on the hotel's third floor, which was reportedly full of foreign tourists who made up the bulk of the hotel's clientele.[59]

The suicide bomber who struck at the Taprobane restaurant in the Cinnamon Grand hotel had checked into the hotel with a false name the night before, claiming to be on a business trip. The bomber entered the queue of the packed restaurant's breakfast buffet the next morning and detonated explosives strapped to his back as he was about to be served. One of the hotel's managers who was welcoming guests was among those killed instantly.[66]

The reception hall of a guest house, the Tropical Inn in Dehiwala, was also attacked later in the day, with two deaths reported.[21][67][68]Later on during investigations, It was found that the bomber's original target had being the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo. CCTV footage given to the media by the hotel, shows the bomber attempting to detonate his vest three times in the dining area and upon failing, leaving the premises at 8.49 a.m.[69]

The Kingsbury hotel management resumed their operations on 24 April 2019; the other two luxury hotels, the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La, are closed temporarily until further notice.[d]

Residence[edit]

A further bombing occurred later in the day when police executed a breach and clear at a suspect's house in the suburbs of Colombo; in Dematagoda killing three police officers and four others at the premises including the suicide bomber.[74][75] The pregnant suicide bomber, whose three children were killed in the blast, was the wife of Ilham Ibrahim, the Shangri-La suicide bomber, and the sister-in-law of Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim, the Cinnamon Grand suicide bomber.[76]

Aftermath[edit]

The government closed facilities for security; the Defence Ministry issued a police curfew starting at 18:00 local time on the day of the attacks, and imposed a temporary social media ban,[77] whilst the Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, had all schools closed for the following two days.[78] The Colombo Stock Exchange announced that its operations will be temporarily suspended following the terror attacks, not opening as planned on 22 April 2019.[79][80]

An improvised explosive device[81] was found near the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo and was dismantled by the Sri Lankan Air Force.[82]

On 22 April, the Special Task Force (STF), the elite counter-terrorism unit of the Sri Lanka Police, located a van belonging to the attackers near St. Anthony's Shrine, the site of one of the prior day's blasts. Upon inspection, the vehicle was found to have been rigged with 3 bombs. After the STF's bomb defusing unit evacuated the surrounding area, the bombs exploded simultaneously during an unsuccessful defusing attempt.[83] The same day, police reportedly found 87 items of bomb paraphernalia at the Bastian Mawatha Private Bus Station in Pettah.[84]

On 25 April, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) released names and photos of six suspects wanted in connection over the Easter Sunday bombings, seeking public assistance.[85] On 28 April, police confirmed two of the suspects, Mohomed Iwuhaim Saadiq Abdul Haq and Mohomed Iwuhaim Shahid Abdul Haq were arrested in Nawalapitiya and would be handed over to the CID.[86]

Victims[edit]

Dead by nationality[87]
Nationality Number
 Sri Lanka 202
 India[88] 11
 China[89] 6
 United Kingdom[90] 6
 Denmark[91] 3
 Netherlands[92] 3[e]
 United States[93][12] 3
 Australia[94] 2
 Saudi Arabia[95][96] 2
 Spain[97] 2
 Turkey[98] 2
 UK/ US[99] 2
 Bangladesh[100] 1
 Japan[101] 1
 Portugal[102] 1
  Switzerland[84] 1
Unknown 10
Total 258[f]

The bombings killed 258 people and injured at least 500.[2] Initially, 359 fatalities were reported; the Ministry of Health later reduced the number by 106 after cross-referencing DNA samples to body parts. The majority of the dead are Sri Lankans, with at least 46 foreigners among those killed. Another 10 foreigners remain unaccounted for and could be among still unidentified bodies at Colombo's police morgue.[12]

The victims included:

At least 45 children, including nine who were foreigners, were killed.[106][84][107] On 23 April, the first mass funeral was held at St. Sebastian's Church, Katuwapitiya.[108]

Subsequent events[edit]

On 26 April, the Sri Lanka Army and the STF carried out a search operation in Sainthamaruthu where three explosions and a shootout occurred when they attempted to raid a suspected hideout following a tip-off. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up killing nine of their family members, including six children, while three other terrorists were shot dead by the soldiers. One civilian was caught in the crossfire and died, according to police, while a wounded woman and child were taken to hospital.[g]

Another search operation in Sammanthurai based on information received by the State Intelligence Service led to a house where a stock of more than 150 gelignite sticks, IS uniforms and flags, 100,000 metal balls, a drone, a van and a laptop were discovered.[114][115][116] An indefinite curfew had been imposed in the police areas of Kalmunai, Chawalakade and Sammanthurai.[117]

On the same day, a suspect was arrested and more than 40 swords, kris knives and several uniforms similar to those worn by the army were recovered from a mosque at Palliyaweediya in Slave Island.[118]

On 27 April, while conducting house to house raids in the Kalmunai area, evidence recovered linked three suspects to the murders of two police officers Dinesh Alagaratnam and Niroshan Indika on 29 November 2018 in Vavunathivu. All three suspects have been arrested and Daily Mirror reported that sources confirmed they were part of a "radical Islamist" group.[119]

On the same day, the driver of the main suspect involved in the attacks, Mohamed Sahran was arrested in Kattankudy.[120] The Negombo Deputy Mayor, Mohomad Anzar was taken into custody with a sword, a knife and 38 mobile phone batteries.[121]

Government response[edit]

Proclamation of emergency laws

Precautionary measures[edit]

State of emergency[edit]

Following President Sirisena's return to the island from Singapore on 22 April 2019, where he was on a personal visit, the Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency from midnight of 22 April by a extraordinary gazette notification has been issued by President under the Public Security Ordinance. This would give the government, police and the armed forces sweeping powers to under take counter terrorism activities. The government also further announced that it would hold the national day of mourning, the following day. On 24 April, the Sri Lankan Parliament passed emergency regulations without a vote after a day-long debate. Emergency regulations gives the police and armed forces powers to search, arrest and detain persons up to 24 hours without a warrant.[122]

Curfews[edit]

After incidents occurred yesterday in the North Western Province, starting from Chilaw and spreading to Kuliyapitiya, Hettipola and other areas, we had to impose curfew last evening. There were incidents of youth involved in damaging and destroying property. So, I as Army Commander request and at the same time warn anyone who has planned to destroy or dishonour the orders given by the government or the Armed Forces, that we will take stern action. I say again we will take stern action to apprehend, arrest and even open fire and use minimum or maximum powers given under emergency laws. We will ensure that the country will not return to violence, including the violence of radicalization and terrorists. Please ensure that you do not get involved in such illegal incidents or any such activities. The Armed Forces will not hesitate to use our powers to curb, curtail and contain the situation. The Armed Forces are strong enough to ensure there won’t be an escalation of violence in any part of the island. We have deployed the Army, Navy and Air Force to assist the Police to maintain law and order. I humbly request the youth not to get involved in violence and get entangled with the Armed Forces where we are ready to use our powers.

Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake, Daily Mirror

Since 21 April evening, the government has imposed nightly police curfews effective island wide, with the hours reduced to 2200 to 0400 hours until 27 April. Indefinite curfews were imposed in several police divisions where incidents such as the Kalmunai shootout took place.[123]

On 12 May, a group of people congregated in the town of Chilaw allegedly following a 'Facebook post' which claimed there was a plan to attack the town. An immediate police curfew was imposed and the situation was brought under control without further damage. Two people were later arrested over the incident. [124]

On 13 May, Sporadic isolated incidents where groups of people vandalised property in the North Western Province caused police to impose curfew across the entire country. Acting Police Chief C.D. Wickramaratne promised an overwhelming police response against any individuals to break the law by instigating sporadic countrywide riots targeting Muslim-owned property and businesses. In a hard-hitting statement, Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake stated that the security forces have been given broad-ranging powers under emergency laws, we will respond proportionately to the threat, however, we will not hesitate to utilise the full extent of the powers to ensure that the rule of law is maintained. [125]

On 14 May, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stated that all necessary powers to restore peace and stability to the country have been given security forces and police. He further stated that creating unnecessary disturbances will hinder the ongoing investigations to apprehend terrorist. [126]

We will not let any elements or any cowardly acts of a few extremists drag the country to anarchy over the unfortunate events on Easter Sunday. We are receiving information on those responsible for such activities, and will take full action against them

Acting IGP Wickramaratne, Daily Mirror

Ban on social media[edit]

The government temporarily blocked major social media networks and messaging services Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Viber, Snapchat and YouTube within hours of the attack. The blocking included VPN service providers that could be used to circumvent the blocks.[127]

Some commentators condoned the move and viewed it as evidence that social media sites had failed to stop misinformation.[128] Others criticised the block for cutting off Sri Lankans from means of communicating with relatives during a disaster[129] and saw it as counterproductive in reducing fake news.[130][131]

On 30 April, President Sirisena ordered the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) to lift the social media ban.[132][133][134] On May 13th, the government blocked social media for the third time.[135]

Ban on burqa[edit]

On 24 April 2019, Sri Lankan MP[who?] called for both burqa and niqab to be banned from the country and proposed for a bill to be passed in the Parliament during a local parliamentary session in wake of the attacks.[136][137][138]

On 28 April 2019, President Sirisena banned any type of face covering that prevents or hinders facial identification, including the burqa or niqāb under an emergency law which will go into force on 29 April 2019. This law does not prevent a Muslim woman from wearing a hijab or chador. Breaching any emergency law is punishable by a maximum penalty of death, a recently re-instated penalty which has not been used for more than four decades.[139] In a press release, the President stated the decision was taken to "further support the ongoing security and help the armed forces to easily identify the identity of any wanted perpetrators".[140] The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulema had also told all Muslim women not to wear face veils for security reasons. If they wanted to wear a veil, then they were told not to come out.

Surveillance[edit]

On 10 May 2019, it was mandated that all copies of sermons given inside mosques be submitted to the Ministry of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs, as part of a broader strategic plan to monitor activities inside mosques. The Ministry said mosques must not be used for radicalising congregations.[141]

Centralised and Integrated Population Information System[edit]

On 8 May 2019, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe announced plans for a centralised platform for the collection, monitoring and storage of intelligence. The system known as the Centralised and Integrated Population Information System will collect biometric data from iris scanning and facial identification at all ports of entry and exit. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Provincial Councils and local governments were instructed to prepare an action plan for this system in two weeks, to obtain Cabinet approval.[142]

Investigations[edit]

Security lapse Inquiry[edit]

Sri Lanka's Minister of Telecommunication Harin Fernando had tweeted that Police Chief Pujith Jayasundara sent an alert by his Deputy Inspector General Priyalal Dissanayake dated 11 April 2019 relaying an Indian intelligence report[143][144][145][146] from 4 April that suicide bombers affiliated with NTJ planned to attack prominent churches and the Indian embassy in Colombo.[147][148][149] Indian intelligence service reissued the warnings two days and two hours before the attacks. Following the attacks, it disclosed that some of the information about the attacks was gleaned from an ISIL suspect arrested in Delhi, who revealed the name of a man, Zahran Hashim, the founder of the NTJ.[150][54]

After initial government denials of the alert's authenticity, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stated that "information was there," about the attacks, and that his government must "look into why adequate precautions were not taken."[52] The State Defence Minister had earlier requested that the media not publish the names of the attackers, and said the government believes the attacks were carried out by a single group of religious extremists.[51][151]

This security lapse forms part of a current Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings.[152] This was followed by the appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee to probe the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks and incidents in its aftermath by the Speaker of the Parliament.[153]

Bombing investigation[edit]

The Sri Lankan Police launched an investigation into the incident to what has now transpired into a major transnational investigation led by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Sri Lankan Police to hunt down all the perpetrators involved in this incident. Six foreign police agencies, including Scotland Yard, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Interpol assisting the Sri Lankan Police.[154]

The bomber at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel was a guest who registered under the name of "Mohamed Azzam Mohamed" and gave a false address.[155] The Shangri-La Hotel bomber was identified by police as Insan Seelavan, a factory owner, nine of whose employees have been arrested.[156]

On 23 April 2019, three Sri Lankan government and military sources told Reuters that a Syrian national had been held in custody for questioning over the attacks.[157]

Later on 23 April, the Sri Lankan State Defence Minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said that initial investigations have revealed that Islamic extremists "carried out the attacks in retaliation for a March attack on two mosques in New Zealand".[23][24][25][26] This has been questioned by New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and by analysts as the attacks were likely planned before the Christchurch attacks.[28][29][27] New Zealand security expert Paul Buchanan said that "Christchurch seems to be a convenient justification for something that was being planned before March 15".[28] Shortly afterward, Amaq News Agency claimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) inspired the attacks.[7] It released a photo and a video showing eight suicide bombers pledging allegiance to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Zahran Hashim of the NTJ was identified as their leader.[150] Amaq's statements emphasised the attacks were against Christians who are war with the organisation. None of them referenced Christchurch.[158]

Investigators also believe the bombs were made of acetone peroxide, and are looking into to training camps that had been hidden on a remote compound near Wanathavilluwa, on the west coast of the country, and possible links to overseas jihadist networks.[159][160]

According to the investigators, the perpetrators were offered military training by a person named Army Mohideen while weapons training was provided overseas as well as in Nuwara Eliya and Wanathawilluwa in the Eastern Province. The vehicles used in the attack are believed to have been procured from a car sales centre in Kadawata.[161]

The National Investigation Agency of India confirmed that on 28 April, four homes were raided in Kasaragod and Palakkad, Kerala as part of the transnational investigation unfolding into the Easter Sunday bombings.[162]

Perpetrators[edit]

Arrests[edit]

Police arrested eight people residing in the Colombo suburb of Dematagoda on the day of the attacks.[h] Five more suspected attackers and accomplices were arrested at a house during the night. Police confirmed on the day after the bombings that 24 people were arrested.[167] By 23 April, the number of people arrested was 40.[168] Three police officers and two civilians were killed by bombs that exploded during the captures.[169] By 24 April 60 people had been arrested with possible links to the attacks with 32 in custody. On 26 April the Sri Lankan Police had more than 70 suspects held on charges of suspicion of terrorism, aiding and abetting terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism. Four high-level suspects are being held by the Terrorism Investigation Department, and 33 are being held by the Criminal Investigation Department. Most of them are friends and family of the suspected suicide bombers.[154][160] Nine suicide bombers were involved in the attacks, and police have identified all of them.[4][170]

Bail controversy[edit]

Nine people arrested on 22 April 2019 and formally charged with supplying equipment used in connection with an act of terrorism appeared in Colombo Magistrates Court on 6 May 2019. They were released on bail of two sureties of LKR500,000 each, the court finding the case against them as weak.[171] The police launched an investigation to determine whether Wellampitiya police had erred. On 9 May 2019, investigators found Wellampitiya police officers had made several errors, neglecting to put several facts before the court. A police spokesmen said stern action would be taken against the officers responsible.[172]

On 15 May, Wellampitiya Police officers hit back against the allegations of negligence and filed a complaint to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) alleging Colombo Magistrate Court Judge Priyantha Liyanage was being biased against the police by releasing Nine of the 10 suspects produced in court. A legal representative appearing on behalf of the suspects stated that the magistrate nor his client needs to wait for the police to complete its investigations for the magistrate to make a decision on the matter, the allegations made by the Wellampitiya Police officers do not have a proper basis in law. A police spokesmen said an investigations had been launched into the incident it appears that police may have erred by not filing the case under Prevention of Terrorism Act because the investigations were yet to be completed, he further stated that no sooner the report from the investigation is released police will take actions against any personnel held responsible. [173]

National Thowheeth Jama'ath[edit]

Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne confirmed that all of the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a local militant radical Islamist group, but foreign links are suspected.[174] There had been no claim of responsibility before 23 April. NTJ's leadership had been condemned by several Sri Lankan Muslim organisations in 2016 for advocating extreme fundamentalist indoctrination of children and for clashes with Buddhist monks,[175] and was linked in 2018 to vandalism of Buddhist statues following anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka.[176][177] NTJ's member and "bombing mastermind" Moulavi Zahran Hashim, a radical Islamist imam from Sri Lanka, preached on a pro-ISIL Sri Lankan Facebook account, known as "Al-Ghuraba" media, and on YouTube. He had praised the Islamic preacher Zakir Naik for inciting Muslims without being banned.[178][179][180] On 3 May 2019, Indian criminal prosecutors had arrested and charged Zakir Naik with money laundering, accusing him acquiring $28 million USD worth as proceeds of crime, a claim he denies. [181]

Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim[edit]

During a press conference on 23 April 2019, State Defence Minister, Ruwan Wijewardene confirmed that a second splinter group was being investigated but declined to provide details. On 27 April 2019, President Sirisena designated Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim and National Thowheeth Jama'ath as terrorist organisations. This enables the freezing and seizure of assets belonging to these groups.[182][183]

Willayath As Seylani[edit]

Willayath As Seylani proscribed among NTJ and JMI under Emergency regulations of 75(1).[184][185]

Identities of the bombers[edit]

Wijewardene announced that most of the suicide bombers were “well-educated and come from middle or upper-middle class”, and that they were “financially quite independent.” He stated one of the bombers studied in the United Kingdom before going to Australia to complete a postgraduate degree.[186]

Sri Lankan police have identified the nine suicide bombers.[170]

No. Name Native Place Location attacked Note
1 Alahudeen Ahamed Muaad Mattakkuliya St. Anthony’s Shrine His brother has been arrested.[187]
2 Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun Valachchenai St.Sebastian’s Church His wife who was identified as Pulasthini Rajendran (Sarah) and wanted by CID over the attacks, was killed during a police raid at a house in Saithamaruthu on 26 April 2019.
3 Mohamed Nassar Mohamed Asad Kattankudy Zion Church Married, Age 27,[188] He originally targeted St. Mary’s Cathedral and dropped off at the Zion Church due to mass service was ended when he was arrived.[189]
4 Mohamed Azam Mohamed Mubarak Colombo 12 Kingsbury Hotel Member of NTJ, exploded a bomb at Kingsbury by 9.15 to 9.20 AM.[60]His wife has been arrested.[187]
5 Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zahran Kattankudy Shangri-La Hotel The founder of NTJ and the suspected ringleader of the attacks, is believed to have been one of the suicide bombers who struck the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.[54] His wife and daughter were injured and his father and 2 brothers were killed whilst the police were conducting a breach and clear at a home on 26 April 2019 in Saithamaruthu.
6 Mohamed Ibrahim Inshaf Ahamed Dematagoda Cinnamon Grand Aged 33, was the owner of Colossus Copper, a manufacturing facility in Wellampitiya. Investigators believe Inshaf used his factory to fabricate the suicide vests used in the attack, supplying bolts and screws that filled the devices.[190][186][191][160] His father, brother and wife are currently in the custody of the CID. He is brother of Ilham.
7 Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahamed Dematagoda Shangri-La Hotel Aged 31, younger brother of Inshaf.[186][154] Husband of Fathima who killed herself.
8 Abdul Lathif Jameel Mohammed Gampola Tropical Inn Aged 36, detonated his bomb at the Tropical Inn. Mohamed had previously studied in the United Kingdom and Australia and may have been radicalized while in Australia. He had originally attempted to bomb the Taj Samudra in Colombo, but his device failed to detonate.[192]
9 Fathima Ilham - Mahawila Gardens Pregnant wife of Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahamed detonated her bomb killing herself and her three sons, and three police officers, in the police raid of her home in Dematagoda.[190][186][191]

Ties to Islamic State[edit]

The attackers are assessed to have links with Islamic State of Iraq and Levant at least in the digital sphere.[158]

Hashim was featured in a video released by Amaq purporting to show eight of the suicide bombers.[150] One of the bombers, Abdul Latheef, had tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.[193] It was reported that he was one of the subjects of a terrorism investigation by the Australian Joint Counter Terrorism Team in 2014 after intelligence emerged linking him to an IS operative Neil Prakash.[194] British newspaper The Times have reported that security agencies believe he might have reached Syria where he was trained and had links with British ISIL members like Jihadi John and Junaid Hussain.[195]

After the 2019 Kalmunai shootout, Amaq claimed those killed in the raid were men of ISIL and published a photo which showed Rilwan who had blown himself up.[196] The other man in the image has been identified to be Zahran.[197] Islamic State also released a video purportedly showing their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi praising the attackers and claiming the attacks were revenge for the loss of Baghouz in Syria.[198]

Impact[edit]

Political[edit]

The Inspector General of Police, Pujith Jayasundara, came under heavy criticism following the bombings with the United People's Freedom Alliance urging that he resign for this total failure to prevent the bombings.[199] Later, former Presidential candidate Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka claimed it was unfair to blame the IGP and claimed it was a conflict between the functioning of military intelligence and criminal investigators, and called for better intelligence mechanisms and security clearances to be streamlined.[200]

In a speech delivered in parliament, former president and current opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa slammed the government for weakening the intelligence services over the years. He stated that in January 2015, he handed over a secure and peaceful country with a strong national security apparatus. He claimed the present government is squarely responsible for the 2019 Easter bombings, stating that on an important occasion such as Easter, representatives of the government usually attend Mass; on this occasion, no representatives were present in or near churches. He blamed the government for diluting the powers of the national security apparatus and claimed this terrorist attack would never have occurred under his administration. Additionally, the government was preparing to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act; he questioned what kind of position the government would have been in to respond to the incident had they been successful in having the Act repealed.[201]

On 24 April 2019, President Sirisena promised major changes to the leadership of the security forces within the next 24 hours and pledged a "complete restructure" of the police and national security forces in the coming weeks. These changes come amidst allegations that a rift between the President and Prime Minister contributed to the failure to effectively respond to threats that undermine national security. The incident also caused a major setback for the government and for other political parties just before 2019 Sri Lankan presidential election [202]

Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne initially attempted to implicate Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the bombings claiming that Abdul Razik was a suicide bomber and the secretary of the NTJ that received funding from intelligence agencies during the Rajapaksa government. Razik however is the general secretary of the Ceylon Thowheed Jama’ath (CTJ) one of the splinter groups from Sri Lanka Thawheed Jama’ath (SLTJ) of which he was the former seneral secretary and is neither a member of the NTJ nor a suicide bomber. Razik challenged Rajitha to provide evidence for the allegations. [203][204]

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe later apologised for failing to stop the attacks issuing a statement on twitter stating "We take collective responsibility and apologise to our fellow citizens for our failure to protect victims of these tragic events. We pledge to rebuild our churches, revive our economy, and take all measures to prevent terrorism, with the support of the international community."[205]

Resignations and appointments[edit]

On 23 April, President Sirisena had announced plans to change the heads of the defence forces.[50]

On 25 April, Hemasiri Fernando, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence tendered his resignation to the President, after it was announced that President Sirisena has requested the Defence Secretary and the Inspector General of Police resign.[206]

On 29 April, the IGP was sent on compulsory leave after no response was received to the President Sirisena request for him to resign. The President lacks jurisdiction to dismiss the IGP as he was appointed on a decision by the Constitutional Council and can only be removed by motion passed in Parliament pursuant to the Public Officers (Procedure) Act, (this requires the precise circumstances of the charges and/or allegations against him to be detailed and presented). The Police Commission still maintains to jurisdiction to overturn the decision to send the IGP on compulsory leave.[207]

The same day, Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police C. D. Wickramaratne was appointed as the Acting Inspector General of Police[208] and General Shantha Kottegoda was appointed Defence Secretary.[209]

On 13 May, The Counstitutional Council endorsed the appointment of C. D. Wickramaratne as Acting IGP. This is considered final and conclusive for all purposes, the National Police Commission nor Supreme Court has jurisdictional oversight to reverse this decision.[210]

Economic[edit]

Tourism in Sri Lanka is the country's third largest foreign exchange earner and employs around 135,000 to 150,000 in the hotel industry. The industry had expected 3 million tourist arrivals and revenue of $5 billion in 2019. Due to the attack on tourists, The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka estimated a loss of $1.5 billion in tourism earnings for the year.[211]

The governments plan to grant visa-on-arrival to visitors from 39 countries has been suspended due to the current security situation.[212]

Social[edit]

Government Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka called for the Batticaloa Campus and Islamic study centres in Beruwala, Maharagama, Tincomalee and Addalachchenai be brought under the control and supervision of the University Grants Commission and the Education Ministry.[213]

On 27 April 2019, Sri Lanka Cricket called off an under-19 tour of the country by the Pakistan cricket team, scheduled to take place in May, saying "we didn't want to take any chances".[214]

In the wake of the attacks thousands of Sri Lankans bought terrorism insurance.[215]

Islamic radicalised channel Peace TV which is run by preacher and televangelist Zakir Naik was officially banned in the country by the main satellite cable operators Dialog TV, PEO TV and Lanka Broadband Network following the attacks even before the governmental intervention.[216][217] The channel is also alleged for it hate speech and also accused to have been used by the Islamic State to brainwash the youngsters and was previously banned in India and Bangladesh.

Legislative[edit]

Following the attack calls have been made to introduce legislation to prevent possible future occurrence of such attacks. The government called for the swift enactment of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act replacing the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act. The Ministry for Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs as proposed the Madrasa Education Regulatory Act to establish a Board under the Ministry to "regulation, registration, supervision, control and development of education within Madrasas in Sri Lanka"[218]

Reactions[edit]

Domestic responses[edit]

Leaders of the country condemned the attacks: President Maithripala Sirisena said "I have given instructions to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy",[219] the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said "I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today,[220] Opposition Leader and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa called the attacks "absolutely barbaric" and said that the nation will stand united as one against "acts of terrorism",[221] and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera described the attacks as a "well co-ordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy".[18]

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, said "It’s a very very sad day for all of us. I wish therefore to express my deepest sorrow and sympathy [...] I condemn to the utmost of my capacity this act that has caused so much death and suffering to the people."[222] Following the attack, the Archbishop's House in Colombo cancelled all Catholic Easter services planned for the evening of Easter Sunday.[223]

International responses[edit]

Numerous world leaders expressed condolences and condemnation.[i] President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani referred to the bombings as an act of genocide.[269][270]

The Finlandia Hall in Helsinki illuminated in the colours of the Sri Lankan flag to express solidarity

After the bombings, numerous buildings around the world were illuminated in Sri Lanka's colours, some of which included the Flinders Street railway station in Melbourne,[271] the Opera House in Sydney,[272] the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki,[273] the Northern Spire Bridge and Penshaw Monument in Sunderland,[274] the Burj Khalifa in Dubai,[275] the Emirates Palace, ADNOC Headquarters, Capital Gate and Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi,[276] the City Hall in Tel Aviv,[277] the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg,[278] and the Sky Tower in Auckland.[279] The Eiffel Tower in Paris went dark as a memorial for the victims of the bombings.[280]

The New York Stock Exchange paused for a moment of silence before the opening bell on the day after the attacks.[281] Real Madrid C.F. also had a moment of silence before the La Liga match on the night of the attacks.[281] Candlelight vigils were held and flags were also flown at half-mast around the world including in Pakistan, Canada, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.[281]

Religious leaders[edit]

Representatives and leaders of the main world religions responded with prayers and support for the victims.[282]

Pope Francis pledged his closeness and solidarity after the attacks during his Urbi et Orbi address in St. Peter's Square.[235] The following day, he urged the international community to help Sri Lanka, and called on them to condemn terrorist acts.[283]

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar, the President of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference (FABC) and Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, the President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) also condemned the attacks.[283]

The World Council of Churches, an ecumenical body representing several major Christian traditions, expressed sentiments of solidarity with the Christians of Sri Lanka.[284]

Condolences for the those affected and condemnations of the attacks were variously offered by the leaders of Anglican,[285] Latter-day Saint,[286] Methodist,[287] Orthodox,[288][289] Evangelical,[290] and Reformed churches,[291] as well as Muslim[292] and Jewish congregations.[282]

All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, a council of Muslim theologians, sent condolences.[293] Several theologians met with Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, following the attacks. The National Shoora Council, composed of eighteen Muslim organisations, also expressed condolences.[293]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ See [13][14][15][16][17]
  2. ^ See [18][19][20][21]
  3. ^ See [23][24][25][26]
  4. ^ See [70][71][72][73]
  5. ^ One of whom a dual Swiss-Dutch citizen and another a dual Dutch-Sri Lankan citizen
  6. ^ Multiple citizenships above only counted once
  7. ^ See [109][110][111][112][113]
  8. ^ See [19][51][163][164][165][166]
  9. ^ World leaders giving condolences included those of Afghanistan,[224] Australia,[225] Bangladesh,[226] Brazil,[227] Brunei,[228] Bulgaria,[229] Cambodia,[230] Canada,[231] China,[232] Denmark,[233] Finland,[234] the Holy See,[235] Hungary,[236] India,[237] Indonesia,[238] Iran,[239] Israel,[240] Italy,[241] Japan,[242] Laos,[243] Lebanon,[244][245] Malaysia,[246] Morocco,[247] New Zealand,[248] Pakistan,[249] Palestine,[250][251] the Philippines,[252] Poland,[253] Portugal,[254] Romania,[255] Russia,[256] Saudi Arabia,[257] Serbia,[258] Singapore,[259] Slovakia,[260] South Korea,[261] Thailand,[262] the United Arab Emirates,[263] the United Kingdom,[264] the United States,[265] Venezuela[266][267] and Vietnam.[268]

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External links[edit]