Sri Lanka Attacks Were ‘Retaliation’ for New Zealand Mosque Shootings, Government Says

April 23, 2019 Updated: April 23, 2019

The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka were an act of revenge for a recent attack on mosques in New Zealand, according to the country’s state minister of defense.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka (on Sunday) was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament on April 23, according to Reuters.

Wijewardene didn’t provide details nor indicate the source of information behind the claim that the Sri Lanka bombings, which killed 321 and wounded around 500, were intended to avenge the Christchurch shooting attacks.

Fifty people were killed in the New Zealand attacks on March 15, in which a heavily armed lone gunman shot victims attending Friday prayers at two mosques.

Police officers search the area near the Masjid Al Noor mosque, site of one of the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 16, 2019. (Mark Baker/AP Photo)

Wijewardene said two Sri Lankan jihadi groups—the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim—were behind the blasts.

It’s unclear whether the Sri Lankan groups received assistance from international terrorist organizations and, if so, what was the nature of their involvement.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that investigators are looking into any potential foreign links.

Sri Lanka Church Blasts
Sri Lankan army soldiers secure the area around St. Sebastian’s Church damaged in a blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2019. (Chamila Karunarathne/AP)

ISIS Claims Responsibility

The ISIS terror group has claimed responsibility for the attacks through its Amaq propaganda agency.

In a statement, the terror group said it was targeting Christians and citizens of countries bombing its territory.

“A security source told Amaq agency the perpetrators of the attack targeting the citizens of [U.S.-led] coalition countries and Christians in Sri Lanka were Islamic State [ISIS] fighters,” the statement said, according to The Independent.

The statement contained no additional information nor evidence.

The Independent reported that ISIS supporters had earlier circulated photographs claiming to show three of the suicide bombers allegedly responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks.

The photographs reportedly showed the men posing with weapons in front of the ISIS flag and were captioned with the names Abul Muktar, Abu Ubaida, and Abul Barra.

ISIS take down flag-513527856-615x963
An ISIS flag is taken down from an electricity pole in Samarra, Iraq, on March 3, 2016. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. intelligence sources earlier said the attacks carried some of the hallmarks of ISIS extremists, although Reuters reported the sources were cautious about declaring who was behind the attacks because there were no initial claims of responsibility.

The New York Times reported that the Sri Lankan government said it had received a warning of a possible threat to churches by National Thowheeth Jama’ath more than 10 days before the attacks. The warning was conveyed by an unidentified foreign intelligence agency, according to the report.

Earlier on April 23, Sri Lankan government and military sources said a Syrian had been detained among 40 people being questioned over the bombs.

“He was arrested after the interrogation of local suspects,” one of the sources said, referring to the unidentified Syrian.

The Attacks

The first six attacks—on three churches and three luxury hotels—came within 20 minutes on the morning of April 21.

Two more explosions—at a downmarket hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo—came in the early afternoon.

Investigators have found that most of the attacks were carried out by lone suicide bombers, the New York Times reported. The Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo was reportedly attacked by two men.

St. Sebastian's Church in Sri Lanka
A view of St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, which was damaged in a blast, on April 21, 2019. (Chamila Karunarathne/AP Photo)

One of the afternoon blasts reportedly took place at a safe house used by the attackers, killing three officers searching for the terrorists.

The blast at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo was the deadliest. At least 104 people were killed in that explosion.

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

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

St. Anthony's Shrine, Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan military officials in front of the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2019. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

April 23 was declared a national day of mourning and the funerals of some of the victims were held.

The government imposed emergency rule at midnight on April 22, giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

An overnight curfew has also been imposed since April 21.

Major social media networks remained blocked by the government.

Reuters and Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.

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