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Asia & Pacific I Sri Lanka’s president orders two top national security officials to step down after the Easter attacks that killed 359
By Joanna Slater and
Lanka's state minister of defense, Ruwan Wijewardene (L), speaks during
a news conference in Colombo on April 24, 2019. (Ishara S.
President Maithripala Sirisena has asked for the resignations of the
country’s police chief and defense secretary as furor grows over the
government’s handling of advance intelligence related to the bombings.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka —
Nine suicide bombers, including a married couple, carried out the
devastating Easter attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 359 people,
authorities said Wednesday, revealing new details about the network
behind the string of bombings.
Eight of the
attackers have been identified, said police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera.
The group included two brothers and a woman, who blew herself up on
Sunday when police closed in on a house in the capital, Colombo.
Wijewardene, the state minister for defense, told reporters that the
bombers used two safe houses in Colombo and Negombo. They came from
middle-class and upper-class backgrounds, he said, and some were “quite
well-educated people.” One of them had studied in Britain and Australia.
people have been arrested in connection with the attacks on churches
and hotels, including Mohamed Ibrahim, a wealthy businessman who
imported spices and owned the home in Colombo’s Dematagoda neighborhood
where the police conducted a raid on Sunday.
of his sons were suicide bombers, and it was his daughter-in-law who
detonated explosives when police officers came to the house, killing
three of them and herself.
Wijewardene said the
bombers had split from the National Thowheed Jamaath, an obscure
Islamist extremist group based in the eastern part of the country. The
leader of the splinter group carried out the suicide attack on Colombo’s
Shangri-La hotel, he said.
The Islamic State
claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks, but Sri Lankan authorities
said its role remains unclear. Wijewardene said there was a connection
to the Islamic State “through ideology and maybe funding,” but the
latter is still under investigation.
said Sri Lanka’s intelligence agencies assessed that deadly attacks
last month on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, “motivated these
people to carry it out on Easter Sunday.” He declined to provide any
further details on how that assessment was reached.
also revealed how efforts by pastors at the Zion Church in the coastal
city of Batticaloa saved lives. The bomber had originally targeted St.
Mary’s Cathedral there but left when he realized mass was over,
according to the senior police superintendent of Batticaloa, Nuwan
Instead the bomber, carrying a backpack
and another bag, headed for the nearby Zion Church and attempted to
enter the congregation area where some 500 people were gathered. He was
stopped by pastors who were suspicious of him and ended up detonating
his explosives in the courtyard, where some children were eating
breakfast, killing at least 28 people.
country remained on edge on Wednesday, and authorities carried out
controlled explosions on motorbikes in downtown Colombo and the suburb
of Maradama, as well as on a package near a restaurant in the town of
Wijewardene urged citizens to remain vigilant and said further arrests would take place.
“Within a couple of days, we can have total control of this situation,” he said.