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What We Know and Don’t Know About the Sri Lanka Attacks

Attacks by suicide bombers on Sunday in Sri Lanka killed more than 300 people and wounded about 500.

The victims came from at least eight countries, and included worshipers at Easter Sunday services at the three churches that were among the targets of the coordinated bombings.

Sri Lanka’s president on Monday declared a conditional state of emergency that gave the security services sweeping powers to arrest and interrogate people, and to conduct search-and-seizures. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was in effect on Monday night in Colombo, the capital, and major social media and messaging services remained blocked by the government.

• The authorities in Sri Lanka said on Tuesday that the attack was carried out by two organizations, : the National Thowheeth Jama’ath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim, carried out the attacks, with help from international militants. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, via its Amaq news agency.

• The leader of National Thowheeth Jama’ath, Mohammed Zaharan, is a known extremist who has spent time in both India and Sri Lanka, and who in recent years has preached hateful messages online.

• The bombings were carried out as retribution for the attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to an initial investigation, a junior defense minister told Parliament. The minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, did not elaborate or cite any evidence to support that assessment.

• The Sri Lankan government acknowledged that more than 10 days before the attacks, a foreign intelligence agency gave the country’s security officials a detailed warning of a possible threat to churches by National Thowheeth Jama’ath.

[Here is a translation of the cover letter and summary of the advisory.]

• That the country’s security agencies did not aggressively act on the warnings is being called a “colossal failure on the part of the intelligence services” and has created a crisis for the government.

• The archbishop of Colombo joined elected officials and others in chastising the government for a serious lapse in security and for failing to warn that a terrorist group planned to attack churches.

• Within hours of the bombings, Sri Lankan security services arrested at least 24 suspects, and by Tuesday the number had grown to 40, suggesting the government knew where key members of Thowheeth Jama’ath could be found. The group was under surveillance, and the authorities had learned as far back as January that radical Islamists possibly tied to the group had stockpiled weapons and detonators.

• A forensic analysis of body parts found that most of the attacks had been carried out by lone bombers, but that two men had attacked the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

• One of the suicide bombers was arrested a few months ago on suspicion of having vandalized a statue of Buddha, a highly provocative act in Sri Lanka, a Buddhist-majority island nation in the Indian Ocean.

• Before the Islamic State made its claim, intelligence and counterterrorism analysts in Washington were scrutinizing possible ties between the militant group and the attackers, but as of Monday afternoon they had not reached any definitive conclusions.

• The attacks took place at three churches and three hotels on Sunday morning in three separate cities across the island. Two more explosions happened in the afternoon in and around Colombo, one at a small guesthouse and the other at what was the suspects’ apparent safe house. Three officers searching for the attackers were killed in that blast.

• The deadliest of the explosions appeared to be at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, about 20 miles north of Colombo, where at least 104 were killed.

• At least 28 people were killed at the Zion Church in Batticaloa, on the other side of the island on its eastern coast. St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Roman Catholic church in Colombo, was also attacked with an unknown number of dead. Witnesses described “a river of blood” there.

• In addition to the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury hotels, also in Colombo, were attacked.

• At least 38 of the dead were foreigners, several of them American, the authorities said. Others were British, Chinese, Dutch, Indian, Portuguese, Japanese and Turkish citizens, according to officials and news reports.

[Follow our live updates on the Sri Lanka bombings.]

• How two small, obscure groups — one of which was previously best known for desecrating Buddhist statues — managed to pull off sophisticated, coordinated attacks.

• The extent to which an international terrorist network or networks, if any, helped with the attacks.

• The names of the suicide bombers and the 24 people being held in connection with the attacks.

• Why Catholics appear to have been singled out in the bombings in a Buddhist-majority nation with a sizable Hindu minority.

• Why the authorities failed to take substantial steps to try to prevent an attack after receiving reports of an imminent threat.

• What the effect of the failure to stop the attacks will have on Sri Lanka’s government; the president and prime minister were already engaged in a bitter feud.

• How many of the approximately 500 wounded people were in critical condition, and what the final death toll might be.

News credit : Nytimes