Sri Lanka identifies group suspected in Easter bombings

A Sri Lankan couple, whose family member was killed in a yesterday blast, leaves from a mortuary after identifying the body, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, April 22, 2019. Easter Sunday bombings of churches, luxury hotels and other sites that killed hundreds of people was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The coordinated Easter Sunday bombings that ripped through Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels, killing more than 200 people, were carried out by seven suicide bombers from a domestic militant group named National Thowfeek Jamaath, a government official said today.

All of the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens, but authorities suspect foreign links, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said at a news conference.

Earlier, Ariyananda Welianga, a government forensic crime investigator, said an analysis of the attackers’ body parts made clear that they were suicide bombers. He said most of the attacks were carried out by a single bomber, with two at Colombo’s Shangri-La Hotel.

The bombings, Sri Lanka’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war ended a decade ago on the island nation, killed at least 290 people with more than 500 wounded, Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said today.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan police investigating the bombings are examining reports that intelligence agencies had warnings of possible attacks, officials said today.

Two government ministers have alluded to intelligence failures. Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted, “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.” He said his father had heard of the possibility of an attack as well and had warned him not to enter popular churches.

And Mano Ganeshan, the minister for national integration, said his ministry’s security officers had been warned by their division about the possibility that two suicide bombers would target politicians.

The police’s Criminal Investigation Department, which is handling the investigation into the blasts, will look into those reports, Gunasekara said.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, said the attacks could have been thwarted.

“We placed our hands on our heads when we came to know that these deaths could have been avoided. Why this was not prevented?” he said.

Earlier, Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the blasts as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, and police said 13 suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Wijewardena said most of the bombings were believed to have been suicide attacks.

But officials have yet to say who they believe is behind the attacks. The Tamil Tigers, once a powerful rebel army known for its use of suicide bombers, was crushed by the government in 2009, and had little history of targeting Christians.

While anti-Muslim bigotry has swept the island in recent years, fed by Buddhist nationalists, the island also has no history of violent Muslim militants. The country’s small Christian community has seen only scattered incidents of harassment in recent years.

The explosions — mostly in or around Colombo, the capital — collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests in one scene after another of smoke, soot, blood, broken glass, screams and wailing alarms.

A morgue worker in the town of Negombo, outside Colombo, where St. Sebastian’s Church was targeted, said many bodies were hard to identify because of the extent of the injuries. He spoke on condition of anonymity.