It was a little-known “radical Islamist group” that unleashed terror on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing hundreds of Christian worshippers and injuring hundreds more with a series of suicide bombs.
Rajitha Senaratne, the Sri Lankan health minister, told reporters he believes a group of extremists called National Thowheeth Jamaath was responsible, along with the “international network” of terror “without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”
The New York Times reported Sri Lankan officials were asking “other countries for help in uncovering international links.”
No group has claimed credit for the deaths of at least 290, with injuries to another 500.
Sri Lankan officials say they have arrested suspects, but they have not been identified.
The Jerusalem Post reported the suspected terrorist group’s leader could be Islamic extremist Moulyi Zahran Hashim.
“The National Tawheed Jamaath imam has a history of racism and Islamic superiority,” the report said, citing a case in 2017 in which he was blamed for making derogatory comments about Buddha in a video.
The Times also reported the Sri Lankan government was warned nearly two weeks of an impending attack.
A foreign intelligence agency, believed to have been Indian, warned security officials of the possible attacks.
The paper reported forensic experts say that human remains suggest seven suicide bombers carried out Sunday’s attack.
The Times reported: “National Thowheeth Jamaath is a small but violent group of young Muslims that started at least three years ago in eastern Sri Lanka, far from the country’s more cosmopolitan western and southern coasts. Until this month, the group was generally perceived as anti-Buddhist, counterterrorism experts said.”
The group emerged as part of the rebound by Sri Lankan Muslims who have battled with Buddhist extremist groups, the report said.
The Wall Street Journal said authorities already had taken into custody two dozen people, making arrests in several locations.
The government also ordered a round-the-clock watch on all churches.
“The suspected bombers’ heads and limbs were severed from their torsos in a way consistent with suicide attacks,” the report said.
Bloomberg reported Muslims in the country were not surprised that an attack would be launched by National Thowhe Jamaath.
“Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said he warned military intelligence officials about the group and its leaders about three years ago,” the report said.
Ahamed said, in the report, “Targeting the non-Muslim community is something they encourage – they say you have to kill them in the name of religion.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the nation in an address there were warnings but authorities didn’t pay enough attention.