An initial probe into deadly suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed more than 300 people shows it was “retaliation for Christchurch,” the country’s deputy defense minister said Tuesday.
“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka (on Sunday) was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” state minister of defense Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament.
According to the Guardian, one of the suspects in the bombings uploaded “extremist content” to social media in the wake of the March attacks in New Zealand. However, terror experts told the newspaper that the Sri Lanka attacks would have taken months of planning.
Wijewardene said investigations showed that a local group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) was behind the attack and was linked to a little-known radical Islamist group in India.
“This National Thowheeth Jama’ath group which carried out the attacks had close links with JMI it has now been revealed,” Wijewardene told parliament, in an apparent reference to a group known as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen India.
Fifty people were killed in shooting attacks on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on March 15.
Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder in the Christchurch attacks. In a rambling “manifesto,” the gunman had said he was motivated partly by a desire to stoke a violent response from Muslims and a religious war between Islam and the West.
Security camera footage released late Monday showed a suspected suicide bomber entering a church in Sri Lanka’s Negombo with a backpack moments before the blast rocked the building, killing throngs of Easter worshipers inside.
As a state of emergency took effect Tuesday giving the Sri Lankan military wartime powers, police had arrested 40 suspects, reportedly including one Syrian national and the driver of a van allegedly used by suicide bombers involved in the deadly bombings, as well as the owner of a house where some of them lived, officials said.
The death toll from Sunday’s attacks rose to 310, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said.
On Tuesday, which President Maithripala Sirisena declared a day of mourning, Sri Lankan authorities planned to brief foreign diplomats and receive assistance from the FBI and other foreign intelligence-gathering agencies after officials disclosed Monday that warnings had been received weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by the radical Muslim group blamed for the bloodshed.
The six near-simultaneous attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels and three related blasts later Sunday were the South Asian island nation’s deadliest violence in a decade.