Sri Lankan officials now say nearly 300 people have died from a series of suicide bomber attacks that took place on Sunday, ripping through churches and hotels as the country’s Catholic and Christian communities began their celebration of the Easter holiday.
The Sri Lankan government also admitted Monday that it had “prior information” about the attacks, according to Reuters, but did little to act on what authorities now believe were specific threats issued by a “little known Islamic group” called National Thowheed Jamath operating within the country.
“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,” a Sri Lankan telecommunications minister told media Sunday night. Another minister noted that administrators in his division had also received threats, indicating that two jihadist suicide bombers were planning attacks, but that he’d heard the attacks would be assassinations, not mass terror attacks.
Reuters reports that certain Sri Lankan officials admitted to hearing about threats against “prominent churches” more than a week ago from a “foreign intelligence agency,” but ministers and police weren’t given any information.
By Sunday night, at least two dozen people were arrested in connection with the bombings, which may have gone on for days based on what authorities found in several raids on houses near the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. The Wall Street Journal reports that 85 additional detonators were found abandoned in a bus station, signaling that the jihadists had planned to carry out a series of terror attacks, and that the Easter Sunday bombings were just the beginning.
Investigators are also looking into whether National Thowheed Jamath, which was virtually unknown on the international terrorism scene until yesterday, has ties to much larger terror organizations operating abroad, or whether Sunday’s terror attacks are connected to members of ISIS, many of whom are returning to their home states — including Sri Lanka — now that the Caliphate has all but collapsed in the Middle East.
National Thowheed Jamath is, The Jerusalem Post reports, new to the scene and the brainchild of an Islamic extremist preacher named Moulvi Zahran Hashim — and this isn’t the first time authorities have run into Moulvi Zahran Hashim’s handiwork. His organization has been prosecuted in the past for denigrating Buddhists, and he had reportedly planned to bomb Sri Lanka’s Indian High Commission earlier this month, but was “thwarted.”
Authorities have yet to official make the connection between the attacks and the preacher, but they have been clear that the bombings are the work of organized Islamic jihadists, all of whom were Sri Lankan citizens.
No one has claimed responsibility in the attack, a rarity for Islamic terrorism.
The attacks were certainly organized, and involved at least eight explosions at seven key targets: three churches and four hotels. Six of the attacks, the WSJ reports, were carried out by suicide bombers. Other attacks were most certainly planned, and at least one attack — a car bomb attack outside the St. Anthony Shrine near Colombo — failed. The bomb apparently did not go off as planned.
Another bomb near Sri Lanka’s airport was found and dismantled before an attack could be carried out.
The official death toll from Sunday’s attacks rose sharply overnight from nearly 200 to nearly 300 (with more deaths expected), and the injured count has also risen to nearly 500. At least 32 of the dead are foreigners, two of whom are believed to be American.