ISIS member warned he had trained Sri Lankan bomb mastermind
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Affected Countries: sri-lanka;
Warnings from India’s intelligence service to Sri Lankan officials just two hours before the first bomb blast on Easter Sunday were reportedly based on information from an ISIS suspect.
Delhi alerted the terror-hit country of a specific threat against churches ahead of the suicide bombings which killed 359 people, including at least 45 children.
Some of the information given in the weeks leading up to the attacks on luxury hotels and churches was gleaned from an ISIS suspect arrested in India, a Delhi official told CNN.
He revealed to investigators the name of his protégé, Zahran Hashim, who is the chief suspect behind the bombings.
Hashim was seen in footage of the purported suicide bombers released on Tuesday by ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
In a statement posted by IS’s Amaq news agency website, the group said: ‘The perpetrators of the attack that targeted nationals of the countries of the coalitions and Christians in Sri Lanka before yesterday are fighters from the Islamic State.’
Colombo has pointed the finger at little-known Islamic extremist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) but acknowledged that they may have had international help.
A minister said Tuesday the bombers may have struck in revenge for attacks on two New Zealand mosques last month which left 50 dead.
‘While we were investigating ISIS cases, during the interrogation of an accused, he disclosed the name of a man, Zahran Hashim, who is one of the suicide bombers and is associated with NTJ,’ said the intelligence source in India.
‘The suspect said that he played a role in his (Hashim’s) radicalisation.’
It is unclear when the arrest was made but the information was shared with ‘their counterparts in Sri Lanka’.
Investigators rushed to track down the suicide bombers’ associates, amid increasing outrage in Sri Lanka at the failure to pay attention to the warnings of India’s intelligence service.
It was revealed that Colombo was warned of attacks several times in recent weeks – the first as early as April 4 – but that the information was not passed higher up the chain of command.
Sri Lanka’s health minister Rajitha Senaratne also revealed that on April 9 the defence ministry wrote to the police chief with intelligence that included NTJ’s name, and, on April 11, police warned the heads of security of the judiciary and diplomatic security division.
Mr Senaratne called on the inspector general of police to resign for failing to act on the intelligence reports. He said: ‘The intelligence services had done the work, but it was not acted on at higher levels.
‘Unfortunately, despite all these revelations by the intelligence units we could not avert these attacks,’
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has threatened to fire ministers over the failings, and Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said he anticipates a shake-up within the security services over the coming days.
Sri Lankan officials said they had arrested dozens of suspects in the past two days but Mr Wickremesinghe warned more explosives were ‘out there’ as suggested attackers remain on the run.
Mr Wijewardene also asked people to ‘remain vigilant’ on Wednesday morning as he admitted that the situation was not fully under control.
‘The investigation is still being conducted by our intelligence agencies, we have made a significant amount of arrests,’ he said at a press conference.
‘We have gathered a considerable amount of information about who was involved in these atrocities and about extremist elements within this country.
‘We will make further arrests over the coming days [and] we can firmly say that within the next couple of days we will have the situation under control.’
Mr Wijewardene said that, so far, 60 people have been arrested, all of whom are Sri Lankan nationals, 39 of whom are still in custody being questioned.
He added that all suspects have some link to the attackers – who he refused to formally identify.
His comments came as a state of emergency took effect giving the Sri Lankan military war-time powers. A third night-time curfew was also strictly enforced.
Meanwhile, America’s ambassador to Sri Lanka says the US believes there are ‘ongoing terrorist plots’ after suicide bombings targeting Christians and tourists on Easter Sunday.
Alaina Teplitz, speaking in the capital Colombo, warned of further attacks on ‘large gatherings [and] public spaces’ adding that ‘terrorists can strike without warning.’
Ms Teplitz said that American intelligence services were not aware of any threat beforehand, but that the FBI is now on the ground providing assistance.
Teplitz also said ‘clearly there was some failure in the system’ for Sri Lanka prior to Easter bombings.
Mr Wijewardene revealed on Wednesday that there were a total of nine attackers – including the wife of one suicide bomber who blew herself up as police raided her house – and said eight of them have been identified.
He said the group used to be part of National Thowheed Jamath, who have previously been blamed for the atrocity, but splintered off as their views became more extreme.
Wijewardene described the bombers as middle to upper class men whose families were financially stable and said many of them held degrees.
Some of them had studied abroad, with at least one gaining a bachelor’s degree in the UK before going to Australia for post-graduate studies, then settling in Sri Lanka, he said.
The group were united in their belief that Islam should be the only religion in Sri Lanka, and that was what motivated their attack on Sunday.
He also confirmed that the leader of the terror cell was among the dead, having blown himself up at the Shangri-La hotel. However, he refused to name the man.
The ringleader has previously been named by the country’s Prime Minister as Moulvi Zahran Hashim, and extremist preacher known to security services for speeches he gave online calling for all non-Muslims to be ‘eradicated’.
Mr Wijewardene also confirmed that a blast at a cinema in Colombo today was a controlled explosion carried out by police.
He said officers had approached a suspicious motorbike outside the cinema and tried to open its storage compartment, but when the lid got stuck they decided to blow it up.
Source: Daily Mail