Sri Lanka’s government has blamed local extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) for one of Asia’s deadliest terrorist attacks in years, and said other nations had shared intelligence warnings ahead of the blasts.
The death toll rose to 290 in the coordinated blasts on Easter Sunday at churches and luxury hotels, which the government said were carried out by seven suicide bombers. The Easter Sunday attacks targeted foreign tourists and Christians — marking a shift from the violence that fuelled a three-decade civil war on the Indian Ocean island.
“There had been several warnings from foreign intelligence agencies about the impending attacks,” Sri Lanka’s Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said at press conference in Colombo. “Persons named in intelligence reports are among those arrested. Some named in the reports had died during attacks.”
“We don’t see how a small organisation can do all of this,” he added. “We are now investigating international support for the group and their other links.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in an address to the nation authorities had
received warnings but “not enough attention had been paid.” One of his cabinet ministers, Harin Fernando, tweeted an internal police memo warning a group called National Thowheed Jamath planned to bomb Catholic churches and the Indian High Commission.
“Should the NTJ be behind the attacks, I doubt if they have the capacity to mount such an organised attack on their own,” said Mario Gomez, executive director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo. “The sophistication and design of the attacks point to some level of foreign involvement.”
A sense of unease pervaded the nation on Monday following a period of relative calm in the decade since the end of a brutal conflict between the predominately Buddhist Sinhalese majority and mostly Hindu Tamil minority. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which also injured at least 450 people.
US President Donald Trump and other world leaders condemned the attack and offered support. Sri Lanka confirmed that 11 foreigners who died in the attacks had been identified — including citizens of India, Portugal, Turkey, Australia, the UK and US — and said 25 unidentified bodies believed to be foreigners were in a Colombo morgue. Most were targeted at the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the capital.
Several blasts occurred hours after the first explosions, and experts detonated a pipe bomb found on a road near Colombo’s airport. Authorities imposed a nationwide curfew and blocked platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp. The Colombo Stock Exchange put its Monday opening on hold and schools will remain closed until Wednesday. Sri Lankan Airlines advised travellers to arrive four hours before their flights to undergo additional security checks.
Tourists flee Colombo as foreigners targeted in blasts
Tourists are scrambling to leave Sri Lanka and hotels are bracing for cancellations after a deadly terrorist attack that killed 290 people targeted foreigners and churchgoers.
Holidaymakers are flocking to the main airport, cutting short their vacations in the wake of coordinated blasts at churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, the worst violence since the end of a civil war a decade ago.
Kishu Gomes, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, said he couldn’t give an exact count of the number of people leaving, but it could run into the thousands.
Tour operators in India, the biggest source market for visitors to Sri Lanka, are also cancelling trips for clients. That would hurt an industry that contributes almost
5 percent to the economy.