National Towheeth Jamaath, the group suspected to be behind Sri Lanka blasts: All you need to know

Twenty-four persons were arrested in connection with the eight bombs blasts that left nearly 500 people injured. (Reuters)

Even as Sri Lanka tries to pick up the pieces after a series of co-ordinated bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, leaving more than 290 people dead, the name of a little-known Islamic radical group National Towheeth Jamaath has cropped up as being responsible for the attacks.

Needle of suspicion towards National Towheeth Jamaath

Sri Lankan Health Minister and government spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne said the National Towheeth Jamaath was suspected to be behind the deadly serial bomb blasts. He also said that all suicide bombers involved in the blasts were believed to be Sri Lankan nationals. "There may be international links to them (National Towheeth Jamaath)," he added.

Follow Sri Lanka bomb blasts LIVE Updates

Till now, about 24 persons have been arrested in connection with the eight bombs blasts that left nearly 500 people injured.

Relatives of people killed in Church blasts mourn as they wait outside mortuary of a hospital in Colombo. (AP)

National Towheeth Jamaath was formed in 2014

The National Towheeth Jamaath, which preaches a puritanical form of Islam, was formed in Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated town in eastern Sri Lanka, in 2014. The group has been pushing for Sharia law in the region and wants women to dress only in burqas.

READ | Clear that international elements are involved, says Sri Lankan official

While the outfit has no history of mass fatality attacks, it is known for racism and Islamic superiority. It shot into the limelight last year when it was linked to the vandalism of Buddhist statues. It’s activities had led to tension between Buddhists (who dominate Sri Lanka), and Muslims.

In 2017, members of the National Towheeth Jamaath were prosecuted for making derogatory remarks in a video against Buddha and hurting the sentiments of the Sinhala-Buddhist community in the country.

Police officials and Catholic priests stand inside the church after a bomb blast in Negombo. (Reuters)

National Towheeth Jamaath link to Sri Lanka blasts

The Jerusalem Post reported that the alleged suicide bomber and mastermind behind the attack on the Shangri La hotel had been identified as Islamic extremist Moulvi Zahran Hashim, who was a lecturer for National Towheeth Jamaath.

However, the outfit is not to be confused with the Sri Lanka Towheeth Jamaath, which has condemned the attacks and demanded the highest punishment to the perpetrators. The group also organised a blood donation drive in Kandy on Sunday, and posted photographs of the event on FB, saying that it wanted to do as much as it could to help the nation at this extraordinary time.

Dead bodies of victims lie inside St. Sebastian’s Church. (AP)

Alert about National Towheeth Jamaath attack ignored?

Interestingly, the Sri Lanka police chief had issued an alert on April 11 regarding suicide bombers belonging to National Towheeth Jamaath planning to target "prominent churches" and the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had sent the intelligence warning to top officers after India had passed on specific intelligence to the Lankan authorities that a terrorist attack was imminent there.

"A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama'ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo," said the alert.