ISIS Claims Responsibility for Easter Sunday Bombings in Sri Lanka

By Zachary Stieber

The radical Islamic ISIS terror group has claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.

Suicide bombers blew themselves up at four churches and four hotels in and around Colombo, the country’s capital, leaving approximately 321 people dead and 500-plus injured.

Officials said that National Thowfeek Jamaath (NJT) was behind the attack, calling it a “small organization” that likely had international support. On Tuesday, April 23, officials said that Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim, another local group, was believed to be involved.

ISIS stepped in later on Tuesday and claimed it had orchestrated the attack.

isis islamic state terrorist militants
Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization units take off an ISIS flag from an electricity pole on March 3, 2016, during an operation in the desert of Samarra aimed at retaking areas from ISIS jihadis. (Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

In a statement released through its “news agency” Amaq, the group claimed, “The perpetrators of the attack … were Islamic State fighters.”

“A security source told Amaq agency the perpetrators of the attack targeting the citizens of [US-led] coalition countries and Christians in Sri Lanka were Islamic State [ISIS] fighters,” it said.

Amaq later posted a picture of men the agency claimed were the suicide bombers and video footage showing seven men they said were the bombers pledging allegiance to the terror group.

ISIS seeks to impose Shariah law on an interpretation of the Quran and Muslim teachings and held parts of Syria, Iraq, and other countries in recent years before being beaten back by America and American allies. The group has inspired or carried out terror attacks around the world, including a mass shooting in Paris in November 2015, which left 137 dead, including seven terrorists, and an attack with a vehicle in New York City in October 2017 that left eight people dead.

Relatives weep near the coffin with the remains of 12-year Sneha Savindi, who was a victim of the Easter Sunday bombing at St. Sebastian Church, in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on April 22, 2019. (Gemunu Amarashinghu/AP Photo)

Security experts agreed that the Sri Lankan attacks carried hallmarks of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other international terror groups.

“This is not the work of an ordinary group, nor can it be pulled off by criminal gangs,” Jayanath Colombage, a former Sri Lankan navy commander who had handled Colombo’s security for a period during the civil war, told Nikkei. “There was a lot of expertise involved to assemble the bombs, transport them to the targets, and select the time of the attacks.”

Phill Hynes, the lead terrorism expert at ISS Risk, a Hong Kong-based security consultancy, said that the attacks were focused on killing as many people as possible.

“These attacks were pure terrorism intended to extract maximum carnage,” Hynes said. “There had to be a significant degree of local support to mount an attack of this scale, probably 80 to 100 handling a range of operational tasks.”

Other experts also agreed with Sri Lankan officials that local groups likely had international support.

Sri Lankan military stand guard inside a church
Sri Lankan military stand guard inside a church after an explosion in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. (Stringer/Reuters)

“These synchronized attacks are out of the ordinary for Sri Lanka,” anti-terrorism expert Alto Labetubun told Reuters. “Compared with similar attacks in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, it has the DNA of attacks carried out by Islamic State and al-Qaeda.”

“With this scale of attacks, I don’t think this was only carried out by locals. There is most likely involvement of foreign groups or people, including people moving in and out of India or Pakistan,” said Labetubun.

Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based security expert, said that NJT was the ISIS branch in Sri Lanka.

Perpetrators were known to have links to Sri Lankans who traveled to the Middle East to join the hard-line group in Syria and Iraq, he said.

Pratyush Rao, south Asia analyst at the Control Risks consultancy, said before ISIS claimed responsibility that there was no evidence linking it to the group.

“While the scale and sophistication of the attacks suggest an overseas link, there does not appear to be any evidence so far to link it directly to IS,” Rao said. “It is plausible though that the attacks may have been inspired by IS tactics and ideology.”