ISIS takes responsibility, links to Christchurch | News Coverage from USA

ISIS takes responsibility, links to Christchurch

The Islamic State on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a series of bombings at churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday that killed 321 and injured 500. The group made the claim through its Amaq News Agency. 

Its statement, two days after the deadly attacks, came after a senior government official said the bombings were “in retaliation” for mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand last month.

Neither ISIS nor the Sri Lankan government offered any evidence. Sri Lanka’s Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne had said seven members of the radical Muslim group National Thowfeek Jamaath – a domestic militant group that might have international ties – were behind the attacks.

ISIS, which has lost territory it previously held in Iraq and Syria, did not provide any video, photos or testimony from people who carried out the attacks pledging loyalty to ISIS, the Associated Press reported, as the group often does.

The terrorist organization’s claim said: “The perpetrators of the attack that targeted nationals of the countries of the coalitions and Christians in Sri Lanka before yesterday are fighters from the Islamic State.”

Disagreement and dysfunction 

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s defense minister, told the country’s parliament, according to the Independent. 

Fifty people were killed and dozens wounded in the attack in Christchurch on March 15 during Friday prayers. A 28-year-old Australian man, Brenton Tarrant – a self-described white supremacist – has been charged in the shootings.

But regarding “retaliation,” the the office of New Zealand’s prime minister said it hasn’t “seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based,” the Associated Press reported.  

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office also added that it understood “the Sri Lankan investigation into the attack is in its early stages.”

International intelligence agencies began warning Sri Lankan officials April 4, and on April 9 the Defense Ministry included the group’s name in a warning to the police chief, Senaratne said Monday.

But Senaratne said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet were unaware of the intelligence until after the attacks because of political dysfunction. Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena have been feuding.

SRI LANKA BOMBINGS: What we know now

Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando told the BBC that the intelligence “never indicated it was going to be an attack of this magnitude.”

“They were talking about isolated, one or two incidents. Not like this,” he said.

President Sirisena said he gave the military wartime powers to arrest suspects. The military has not had such sweeping power since the country’s civil war, which ended in 2009. 

The government blocked access to online sites Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram after the blasts, adding to the confusion and sense of chaos in parts of the country as residents and visitors sought assurance that the danger had passed. A nationwide state of emergency began at midnight Monday.

The bombers were all Sri Lankan, authorities said, but international influence is suspected.

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne said, according to Reuters. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

Police said 40 suspects had been arrested as of early Tuesday, including the driver of a van allegedly used by suicide bombers.

A total of nine bombings took place Sunday in the deadliest instance of violence in Sri Lanka since the civil war ended.

Officials found 87 bomb detonators in Colombo, the country’s capital. Twelve detonators were at the main bus depot and 75 in a garbage dump.

4 Americans killed

At least four Americans are among the dead, the U.S. State Department said. 

The first American identified among the victims was Dieter Kowalski, 40, a Wisconsin native living in Colorado. His employer, education company Pearson, confirmed Kowalski’s death Monday. CEO John Fallon said in a message on LinkedIn that Kowalski had just arrived at his hotel when he was killed in the explosion.

Officials at Sidwell Friends, a Washington-area private school where former president Barack Obama’s daughter Sasha is a senior, confirmed the death of one of its students in an email to parents. The Washington Post reported the fifth-grade boy, Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, had been on leave for the past year in Sri Lanka.

The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans to “exercise increased caution” because of terrorism concerns.

Sri Lankan authorities planned to brief foreign diplomats and receive assistance from the FBI and other foreign intelligence-gathering agencies.

Most of the dead were Sri Lankan, many of them members of the Christian minority. At least 30 foreign tourists were killed in the attacks.. Victims from the United Kingdom, India, Australia, China, Japan, Spain and Portugal were confirmed.

The Sri Lankan government did not provide details about the identities of the victims, citing privacy concerns.

The Bestseller clothing chain confirmed Danish media reports that three of the children of its owner, business tycoon Anders Holch Povlsen, were killed in the attacks. Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet said Holch Povlsen, 46, and his wife, Anne, were vacationing in Sri Lanka with their children.

The U.N. Security Council, the organization’s most powerful body, condemned the bombings as “heinous and cowardly terrorist attacks” and called for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

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Contributing: Jordyn Noennig, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Jane Onyanga-Omara, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

 

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