Easter Sunday bombers planned second attack in Sri Lanka: Police

Colombo, Apr 20 (PTI) The perpetrators of the Easter Sunday bombings were planning to carry out a second attack in Sri Lanka, a senior police official has said, giving a rare update on the year-long investigation into the devastating attack that killed nearly 260 people.

Nine suicide bombers, belonging to local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS, carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, killing 258 people, including 11 Indians, and injuring over 500 on the Easter Sunday on April 21, 2019.

Sri Lankan police have arrested over 200 suspects in connection with the bombings.

At a press conference on Sunday, Police Spokesman SP Jaliya Senaratne said the ongoing probe into the attack by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had revealed that the perpetrators were planning a second attack in the country, the Daily Financial Times reported.

'It has been revealed that these suspects who were arrested (recently) have worked with certain organisations in order to preach extremism, misleading youth by giving them a wrong interpretation of Islam,' the official was quoted as saying by the report.

Several persons involved were arrested recently. The group, led by Zahran Hashim, had pretended to have split into two in order to mislead intelligence agencies, Senaratne said.

He also denied allegations that a lawyer who was recently arrested was acting in his professional capacity, alleging that the lawyer had acted illegally, the report said.

'I must stress that the CID does not arrest people in an irresponsible manner. This was a heinous crime; hundreds of people lost their lives, many more were injured. Even today, some of those who survived live with the aid of medical equipment. Therefore enforcing the law strictly against those who were involved in such a crime is the core duty of the police,' he said.

The official said that the CID had found evidence that the suspects had worked with some of the bombers to establish certain 'organisations'.

'Among the suspects arrested are those who provided funding for these organisations and provided leadership for them,' he said, adding that the investigation was on.

The investigation has found the suspects and others who closely associated with them in the said 'organisations' had been in touch with radicalised elements overseas and had planned to provide them refuge in Sri Lanka in a post-attack scenario, he said.

The blasts targeted St Anthony's Church in Colombo, St Sebastian's Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and a church in the eastern town of Batticaloa when the Easter Sunday mass were in progress.

Three explosions were reported from three five-star hotels - the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo. PTI MRJ MRJ