The devastating Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka were locally planned and executed, without direct guidance from the Islamic State militant group, investigators said.
1 St. Anthony’s Shrine A suicide blast went off at this Roman Catholic church in Kochchikade, Colombo, around 8:45 a.m. Witnesses described scenes of terror and carnage. “It was a river of blood,” said N. A. Sumanapala, a shopkeeper who works near the church. “Ash was falling like snow.”
2 Shangri-La hotel A suicide blast hit the Table One Restaurant, which was serving Easter brunch, on the hotel’s third floor just before 9 a.m. Another suicide bomb was detonated in hotel corridor.
3 Kingsbury Hotel A suicide bomb shattered windows and walls.
4 Cinnamon Grand Hotel The hotel had been blown up before, in 1984, when it was called the Hotel Lanka Oberoi.
5 Dematagoda housing complex At around 2:45 p.m., a few hours after the initial wave of bombings, a suspect who was being questioned by the police in a Colombo suburb detonated a suicide bomb, killing three officers, according to officials. Explosives were found inside, and three suspects were arrested.
6 Tropical Inn A blast occurred at this small hotel near the national zoo in Dehiwala, a suburb of Colombo later at around 2 p.m.
In the days leading up to Easter Sunday’s devastating suicide bombings that killed at least 250 people in Sri Lanka, the country’s security agencies had been closely watching a secretive cell of the national Thowheeth Jama’ath, a little-known radical Islamist organization that security officials in Sri Lanka now say carried out the attacks and may have received help from abroad. They knew the group was dangerous. They had collected intelligence on the whereabouts of its leaders in the April 11 security memo, which warned of Catholic church bombings. They had been warned even earlier by India that the group, also known by the spelling National Thowheed Jama’ath, was plotting church attacks. They knew as far back as January that radical Islamists possibly tied to the group had stockpiled weapons and detonators. And within hours of when three churches and three hotels were bombed, Sri Lankan security services swooped down on at least 24 suspects — by Tuesday the number had grown to 40 — suggesting that officials also knew exactly where the group had been operating. Why the security agencies failed to act aggressively on the information before the bombings is now an enormous question. It has been further complicated by a feud between the president and prime minister, which left the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, ignorant of the information the security agencies possessed — leading to bitter recriminations that have created a new government crisis.
Two Sri Lankan Muslim extremists learned how to build the explosive devices that killed more than 250 people in churches and hotels by studying Islamic State designs on the internet and conducting trial-and-error tests, including one that cost a bomb maker several fingers last year, people involved in the probe said.
Raids on a supposed bomb workshop and an Islamic State hide-out left at least 15 dead and brought the total arrests so far to more than 70. Around midnight, explosions and a gun battle erupted at a house in the east as security forces closed in. The military said on Saturday morning that 15 people had been killed there, including four suicide bombers who detonated their explosives.
Given Sri Lanka’s nearly thirty-year-long civil war, which ended only a decade ago with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eleam, or LTTE), government intelligence, security, and law enforcement officers were likely focused on monitoring the country’s Tamil population and preventing a resurgence or resurrection of the Tigers. Far less attention would have been focused on Sri Lanka’s small Muslim community. This inattention could have created the opportunity for a local group—perhaps with external encouragement or support—to emerge from obscurity and perpetrate such horrifically lethal attacks.