The Islamic State issued a statement on Tuesday morning claiming responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.
Speaking through its Amaq “news agency,” ISIS claimed “those who carried out the attack that targeted nationals of the Coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State fighters.” The Islamic State is evidently more willing to admit the attacks were directed at Christians than American liberals.
Sri Lankan authorities have stated the bombers were recruited from an extremist group called the National Towheeth Jama’ath suspected of links to the Islamic State. The Sri Lankans said a foreign terrorist organization coordinated the bombings.
The South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday that several of the individuals arrested thus far have claimed ties to ISIS or described themselves as members. The Sri Lanka attacks were similar to church bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines over the past year claimed by the Islamic State or carried out by people with known connections to ISIS.
The SITE Intelligence Group on Monday discovered an Islamic State supporter posting photos in pro-ISIS chat rooms of three “commando brothers in Sri Lanka” purportedly involved in the Easter Sunday attacks. The photos depicted the men holding weapons and posing in front of ISIS banners:
Several IS supporter channels circulate pictures of three of the Sri Lanka suicide bombers in front of an IS flag; Abu Ubaydah, Abul Mukhtar and Abu Bara' pic.twitter.com/m456avqNGu
— Tore Hamming (@ToreRHamming) April 23, 2019
Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told his parliament on Tuesday that the Easter Sunday attack on Christians was meant as retaliation for the mass shooting of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. He did not detail the information collected by investigators that led him to this conclusion.
The UK Guardian noted that one of the warnings issued before the attack was an intelligence memo circulated between Sri Lankan government officials that reported one of the suspected bombers began posting “extremist content” on his social media accounts after the Christchurch shooting. On the other hand, terrorism analysts believe the Easter Sunday attacks would have required months of preparation to train the bombers and prepare the weapons, so the attack plan would have been underway before the Christchurch murders on March 15.
Wijewardene said the bombers belonged to two Sri Lankan Islamist groups, the previously mentioned National Towheeth Jama’ath (NTI) and an even more obscure organization called Jamiyyathul Millatu Ibrahim.
U.S. officials believe NTI is linked to ISIS but the extent of those connections is unclear. The Sri Lankans believe NTI has become a full-blown Islamic State affiliate, possibly due to radicalization from returning Sri Lankan recruits who fought for ISIS in Syria.
President Donald Trump called Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday to offer FBI assistance in tracking down the perpetrators of the Easter attack. FBI agents and British counter-terrorism officials are reportedly en route to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan police are reportedly on high alert for a truck and van believed to be packed with explosives. The vehicles are believed to have entered the capital city of Colombo along with several individuals riding motorcycles.
The Easter Sunday attack killed 321 people and injured at least 500 at last count. Dozens of the victims were children, including an 11-year-old American, Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa. CNN on Tuesday obtained footage of a man identified as one of the bombers carrying a large backpack across a courtyard near St. Sebastian’s church on Easter morning and pausing to pat a child on the head.
Update: The Islamic State news agency released another photo on Tuesday morning showing seven of the Sri Lanka bombers posing together in front of the ISIS flag:
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) April 23, 2019
The new Amaq statement also “named” the seven perpetrators using their ISIS pseudonyms.