Colombo, April 23 (Reuters): A whole Sri Lankan Muslim family, comprising two brothers and the wife of one of them, was involved in the serial suicide bombings which ripped through Colombo on Sunday, police said.
The brothers, whose names have not been revealed, carried out two of the three hotel suicide blasts.
An attack on a fourth hotel failed. But this helped lead the police to the Islamist group National Tawheed Jamaat which is now blamed for the assault, police said.
The brothers were in their late twenties and operated their own “family cell”, an investigating officer said.
They were key members of the Islamist National Towheed Jama’ath (NTJ) group which the government has blamed for the attacks.
One of the brothers checked into the Cinnamon Grand hotel and the other at the Shangri-La on Saturday. The next morning, at virtually the same time, they went to the hotels’ Easter Sunday breakfast buffets and blew up explosives-laden backpacks, the officer said.
One of the brothers had given false identity details when he checked into the hotel. The other had given the a address which led police commandos to their family home in a commercial area of Colombo.
“When the Special Task Force went there to investigate, one brother’s wife set off explosives killing herself and her two children,” the officer said.
“It was a single terror cell operated by one family,” the investigator said.
“They had the cash and the motivation. They influenced their extended family too.”
Three police commandos were killed in the blast, Several extended family members are among the 40 in detention.
The brothers had been involved in their father’s lucrative spice export business, and yet they decided to blow themselves up for their version of Islam, investigators said.
A focus of the inquiry will be to find out whether there was a foreign influence in their radicalisation and how the children of such a wealthy family had become involved, an official source said.
“What we have gathered so far is that they had indicated to their close family what they were going to do. And it looks like they were inspired by foreign terrorist groups, but to what extent they had direct links is still unclear.”
“What we have seen from the CCTV footage is that all the suicide bombers were carrying very heavy backpacks. These appear to be crude devices made locally,” the source said.
Another would-be suicide bomber walked into a fourth luxury hotel in Colombo on Sunday. But he did not set off a blast. It was not known if his explosives failed or he had a change of heart.
But after the Shangri-La blast, staff at the unnamed hotel became suspicious and the man was tracked to a lodge near the capital. He blew himself up there when confronted by police, the source said. Two bystanders were also killed.
Mawanella Muslims Complained
The whereabouts of the NTJ leader, Moulvi Mohammad Zahran Hashmi, is also unknown.
He was linked to the vandalizing of Buddha statues on December 26 ,2018 at the central Lankan town of Mawanella.
The local Muslim community had been complaining to authorities about Hashmi since 2017.
Residents of the village in the east of the country where he lived had demanded police action against him over his radical comments and acts, community leaders told AFP.
“He was a threat to moderate Muslims in the east and we had made several complaints,” one Muslim leader told AFP.
The police chief’s warnings about the NTJ were not passed to top ministers. A separate investigation is underway into why more was not done to stop the brothers and the other attackers.
(The featured image at the top shows a suicide bomber walking to the Church in Negombo along with other worshipers)