Three days after the serial bombings killed over 350 people in Sri Lanka, the country’s government said it was not the National Thowheeth Jamath (NTJ) but a more radical splinter group of the NTJ that was behind the attack.
State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardena held a press conference on Wednesday where he shared more details about the investigations in connection with the Easter Sunday terrorist attack.
Without naming the splinter faction, the minister said, “There are two groups: the National Thowheeth Jamath and a splinter group of the main body. The group that has become quite extreme and from what we have gathered is that their thinking is that Islam can be the only religion in this country. We believe that the leader of this splinter group has also committed suicide.”
Both the groups still have links, said the minister, adding that the leader of the splinter group was the one responsible for carrying out the suicide bombing at Hotel Shagri-La, where the slain JD(S) party workers were staying.
Responding to a question raised by a foreign media person as to the whereabouts of Zahran Hashmi — described by intelligence sources as the NTJ’s leader — the state minister confirmed that he was “not the leader” of the splinter group. He, however, did not give away details about the leader of the splinter group.
9 suicide bombers involved
There were nine suicide bombers involved in Sunday’s attack including a woman, who blew herself up at the Dematagoda residence of businessman Mohammed Yusuf Ibrahim. His sons were suspected to be two of the main bombers.
While most reports suggested that Ibrahim’s sons, Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim, carried out the blasts at Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La hotels, Ruwan Wijewardena said that suicide bomber at the Shangri-La hotel was not the son of Mohammed Yusuf Ibrahim.
Meanwhile, the minister did confirm that the businessman along with one of his sons have been taken into custody for questioning.
Sri Lanka is worried over the increasing trend of well educated youth from well-to-do families getting involved in terrorist activities.
Rawan Wijewardene said: “This group of suicide bombers, most of them are well-educated and come from middle or upper-middle class, so they are financially quite independent and their families are quite stable financially, that is a worrying factor in this.”
One suicide bomber studied in UK
Wijewardena confirmed that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and did his postgraduation from Australia. The authorities are investigating whether he was influenced and inspired when he was abroad or after he returned to Sri Lanka.
The investigators are also looking into where the funds came from and if the links to the ISIS were direct or were they just inspired by the ISIS.
“We believe that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and later did his postgraduate [studies] in Australia before coming back and settling in Sri Lanka… Some of them have I think studied in various other countries, they hold degrees, LLMs [law degrees], they’re quite well-educated people”, said Ruwan Wijewardene.
The multiple bombings in the island nation have claimed 359 lives, which includes as many as 39 foreign nationals.
The police authorities have arrested around 90 people so far. 32 people are in CID custody and others in various police stations.