ISIS Claims Responsibility for Sri Lanka Easter Sunday Bombings

Earlier, deputy defense minister says an extreme Islamist group is believed to be responsible for bombings that killed at least 311 people on Easter Day

A suspected suicide bomber carries a backpack on a street in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019
\ REUTERS TV/ REUTERS

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka which killed 321 people and injured about 500 others, the group's AMAQ news agency said on Tuesday, providing no evidence to the claim.

Earlier, the Sri Lankan deputy defense minister said that according to initial investigations by the government, the bombings were intended as retaliation for last month's attack against Muslims in Christchurch, without providing evidence or explaining where the information came from. 

On March 15, a white supremacist gunman opened fire on worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people in what was the country's worst-ever mass shooting.

"We believe [the massacre] was carried out by an extreme Islamist group as a reprisal to the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand," State Minister for Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said in a statement to parliament.

"This group is known to have links to an organization named National Thowheed Jamath. We should take immediate steps to ban any such organization that have links to extremist elements," he added.

Authorities in Sri Lanka are further increasing security measures after at least 311 people were killed in eight separate attacks on Sunday. The explosions took place during busy Easter services at Christian churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo and in three five-star hotels in the capital.

As a state of emergency took effect Tuesday giving the Sri Lankan military war-time powers, police arrested 40 suspects, including the driver of a van allegedly used by the suicide bombers and the owner of a house where some of them lived.

Police issued orders Tuesday that anyone parking a car on the street and leaving unattended must put a note with their phone number on the windscreen.

Postal officials meanwhile said they would no longer accept pre-wrapped parcels for mailing. 

A warning shared with Sri Lankan security agencies on April 11 said a local group was planning a suicide terror attack against churches in Sri Lanka.

Priyalal Disanayaka, the deputy inspector general of police, signed the letter addressed to the directors of four Sri Lankan security agencies. He asked the four security directors to "pay extra attention" to the places and VIPs in their care.

The intelligence report attached to his letter called the group National Towheed Jamaar, said it was targeting "some important churches" in a suicide terrorist attack that was planned to take place "shortly." The report named six individuals likely to be involved in the plot.

On Monday, Sri Lanka's health minister held up a copy of the report while describing its contents, spurring questions about what Sri Lanka police had done to protect the public from an attack.