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Sri Lanka Police Find More Bombs, Detonators Day After Easter Jihadist Massacre

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena
FRANCES MARTEL

Police in Sri Lanka found bombs and detonators in two new locations Monday –  one near the St. Anthony’s Church jihadists attacked on Easter Sunday in Kochchikade and another about an hour away in capital Colombo – bringing the total number of targets of a killing spree that left at least 290 dead to eight.

Jihadists Sri Lankan officials identified as belonging to the local terrorist group National Thowfeek Jama’ath killed at least 290 and injured another 500 in a series of bombings Sunday targeting Christians celebrating their faith’s most important holiday, Easter. The bombings targeted three churches and three hotels known to be frequented by foreigners, also dealing a significant blow to the island nation’s tourist industry.

Since news of the attacks broke, reports have surfaced that Sri Lankan intelligence officials received international warnings of an impending attack but did nothing to stop it. Officials confirmed Monday that documents indeed showed evidence of a coordinated bombing effort targeting the nation’s Christian minority, though they did not offer any evidence the government responded to the warnings.

Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror reported on Monday that securing the country from further attacks remained a priority, and police had found evidence of bomb plots. In Kochchikade, where the jihadists bombed St. Anthony’s Church, police found a van full of explosives believed to belong to one of the jihadists. Authorities conducted a controlled explosion of the devices found inside before taking in evidence from the van.

Police spokesman Superintendent of Police Ruwan Gunasekera revealed Monday that police also found a cache of explosives in Pettah, Colombo, without confirming if they belonged to the terrorists responsible for Sunday’s attacks. Police found these bombs near a private bus stop, potentially targeting commuters, and 12 detonators at the stop. Police found another 87 bomb detonators in a nearby trash bag, according to reports.

Authorities have not identified anyone as suspected to be behind the bus stop explosives or arrested any new individuals since the raids late Sunday that resulted in authorities naming National Thowfeek Jama’ath as the organization responsible for the attacks.

No individual or organization has taken credit for the bombings, which targeted three churches and three hotels on Sunday. The discovery of more undetonated explosives may indicate that the group has not finished executing its terrorist plot and has not taken responsibility for the attack to prevent police from stopping further bombings.

While police affirmatively identified explosives in two separate locations Monday, false reports of threats have begun surfacing throughout the country. Sri Lanka’s Hiru News reported Monday that police in Mahabage – Ragama identified a “suspiciously abandoned motor vehicle,” forcing the shutdown of nearby roads. Authorities have not announced the finding of any authentic explosive devices or weapons in that vehicle, however.

The Daily Mirror also reported that a rumor began spreading Monday that terrorists had poisoned the water supply in at least three local areas, which law enforcement officials said no evidence substantiated.

Sri Lanka is on edge following the confirmation by cabinet ministers loyal to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that reports claiming intelligence officials knew of a plot to kill Christians by the National Thowfeek Jama’ath and did not act on the information were true. President Maithripala Sirisena, they accused, had kept them and Wickremesinghe from intelligence briefings following a constitutional crisis in November triggered by Sirisena abruptly trying to fire Wickremesinghe. Sirisena lost that political struggle, but the prime minister himself confirmed no one had alerted him to any threats and that he was generally unwelcome at intelligence briefings since the incident.

After hours of outrage from the prime minister’s wing of the government, Sirisena’s officials admitted that foreign intelligence services indeed warned of an Easter jihadist attack.

“These intelligence authorities have informed, from time to time, starting from April 4, 48 hours before the attacks and finally ten minutes before tragedy struck. They gave warnings about a possible attack on April 4 for the first time,” Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said at a press conference. “Thereafter, National Intelligence Chief Sisira Mendis, on behalf of the Defence Secretary, had informed the Inspector General Police (IGP) about the imminent attacks. He had actually informed that an organisation called ‘Thowheed Jamath’ planned suicide attacks and had even mentioned their names.”

The officer who received the information “had failed to warn the Prime Ministerial Security Division (PMSD) and the Presidential Security Division (PSD) on the attacks,” Senaratne concluded. “Although the Security Council meetings had been convened after last December, council member and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was never invited.”

Reports further revealed Monday that at least one of the suicide bombers identified in the attack had been arrested less than a year ago for desecrating Buddhist statues, the primary activity National Thowfeek Jama’ath was associated with before the bombings.

Interpol has agreed to send a team to Sri Lanka to help find all those responsible for the attacks and potential ties to any international jihadist organization, which have currently not been revealed. American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called Wickremesinghe and, according to a statement published Monday, offered “all possible assistance to Americans and the Sri Lankan Government alike.”

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