19 August 2019
A mourner prays at a grave of a victim of Sunday's bomb attacks, at a Catholic cemetery in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters
A mourner prays at a grave of a victim of Sunday's bomb attacks, at a Catholic cemetery in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

Islamic State claims Sri Lanka blasts

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 321 people in what officials believe was retaliation for assaults on mosques in New Zealand, Reuters reports.

The claim, issued through the group’s AMAQ news agency, was made after Sri Lanka said two domestic Islamist groups with suspected links to foreign militants were suspected to have been behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels. About 500 people were also wounded in the bombings.

Three sources told Reuters that Sri Lankan intelligence officials had been warned hours earlier by India that attacks by Islamists were imminent. It was not clear what action, if any, was taken.

President Maithripala Sirisena said he would change the heads of the defense forces following their failure to act on the intelligence.

“I will completely restructure the police and security forces in the coming weeks. I expect to change the heads of defense establishments within the next 24 hours,” Sirisena said in an address to the nation.

“The security officials who got the intelligence report from a foreign nation did not share it with me. I have decided to take stern action against these officials.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told a news conference investigators were making progress in identifying the perpetrators.

“We will be following up on IS claims, we believe there may be some links,” he said.

The government has said at least seven suicide bombers were involved.

In a statement, Islamic State named what it said were the seven attackers who carried out the attacks. It gave no further evidence to support its claim of responsibility.

The hardline militant group, who have lost the territory they once held in Syria and Iraq to Western-backed forces, later released a video on Amaq showing eight assailants, seven of whom were masked, pledging allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Reuters could not independently verify the claim and authorities did not officially identify the assailants.

Earlier, junior minister for defense Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament two Sri Lankan Islamist groups the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim were responsible for the blasts, which detonated during Easter services and as hotels served breakfast.

The first six bombs on three churches and three luxury hotels exploded within 20 minutes of each other. Two more explosions at a downmarket hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo took place in the early afternoon.

Wickremesinghe said the militants had tried to attack another hotel but had failed.

Sri Lankan government and military sources said a Syrian had been detained among 40 people being questioned over the bombs.

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were killed. That included British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

The UN Children’s Fund said 45 children were among the dead.

Footage on CNN showed what it said was one of the bombers wearing a heavy backpack. The man patted a child on the head before entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Dozens were killed there.

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