• The Sri Lankan police have arrested 24 people in connection with a series of devastating suicide bombings at hotels and churches on Easter Sunday that left nearly 300 people dead and more than 500 injured.
• The government on Monday blamed National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a little-known radical Islamist organization, for the bombings. An official said the group, which had not carried out any serious attacks before, had help from “an international network.”
• Sri Lanka’s security forces were warned at least 10 days before the bombings that the group planned suicide attacks against churches, but apparently took no action against it, indicating a catastrophic intelligence failure. Top government officials say the warning never reached them.
• A dusk-to-dawn curfew was implemented for a second night on Monday in Colombo, the capital. And major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have been blocked by the government to try to curb the spread of misinformation.
Death toll rises to 290
The death toll rose significantly overnight to 290, the police said on Monday, adding that about 500 people had also been wounded in the attacks on sites across the country.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said that at least 36 foreigners were among the dead. Those countries that have confirmed their citizens were killed include Australia, Britain, China, Japan, Portugal and the United States.
Ruwan Gunasekera, a police spokesman, would not reveal how many people were killed in each location.
The identities of the victims have started to emerge. These are their stories.
A warning went unheeded
Ten days before the bombings, a top Sri Lankan police official warned the security services that a radical Islamist group planned suicide attacks against churches, but no action was taken against the group. It was unclear what other precautions, if any, the security agencies had taken in response to the threat warnings.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday that neither he nor his cabinet ministers had been informed of the warning, highlighting the power struggle between him and President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the defense minister. Late last year, the feud led, for a time, to there being two officials claiming to be the rightful prime minister.
The apparent intelligence failure and the breakdown of communication within the government are likely to prompt political recriminations and attract attention in investigations into the attacks.
At a news conference on Monday, the health minister, Rajitha Senaratne, said there had been a warning as early as April 4, reiterating that the prime minister and his allies had been “completely blind on the situation.” He noted the lack of cooperation within the government, saying that when the prime minister attempted recently to call a security council meeting, members of the panel refused to attend.
An April 11 letter from the police official, citing foreign intelligence services, not only named the group believed to be planning an attack, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, it also named individual members.
“We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said on Sunday.
Who are National Thowheeth Jama’ath?
Officials on Monday said a little-known Islamist group that promotes a terrorist ideology in South Asia was responsible for the attacks.
The group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, had a reputation for vandalizing Buddhist statues but little history of carrying out terrorist attacks.
Rajitha Senaratne, the health minister, called the group “a local organization” and said the suicide bombers appeared to be Sri Lankan citizens. “All are locals,” he said at a news conference on Monday.
But, he added, “there was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”
No one has publicly claimed responsibility for the bombings.
A forensic analysis of body parts found at six sites determined that seven suicide bombers conducted attacks at three churches and three hotels, according to The Associated Press. Most attacks were carried out by single bombers, but two men targeted the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Two other bombings at a guesthouse and at the suspects’ apparent safe house remain under investigation.
Sri Lanka does not have much history of Islamist terrorism. The country is predominantly Buddhist, with significant Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities.
From 1983 to 2009, separatists from the Tamil ethnic group, which is mostly Hindu, fought a civil war against the government, dominated by the Sinhalese ethnic majority, most of whom are Buddhist.
U.S. warns of additional attacks
The State Department said that terrorist groups “continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka” and raised its travel advisory to warn visitors to the country about potential threats.
It said terrorists could attack “with little or no warning,” and listed several potential targets, including tourist spots, transportation centers, markets, malls, government offices, hotels and places of worship.
The travel advisory level was raised to “exercise increased caution,” the second lowest of four levels. It had previously been at the lowest level, “exercise normal precautions.”
The advisory gave no specific details about any groups that could be planning attacks or about who might be responsible for Sunday’s violence.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia also raised its advisory level following the attacks and urged travelers on Monday to “reconsider your need” to go to Sri Lanka.
Social media is shut down
Sri Lankan officials temporarily blocked several networks, including Facebook and Instagram. Users also reported being unable to access the messaging services WhatsApp and Viber.
Though Sunday’s attacks have no known link to social media, Sri Lanka has a troubled history with violence incited on the platforms. The ban was an extraordinary step that reflects growing global concerns about social media.
News credit : Nytimes