Colombo, May 11 (Reuters/News18/newsin.asia): Sri Lankan Security Forces are looking for terror-leader Zahran’s successors.
A madrassah teacher and a firebrand preacher of the Wahabi and Salafi brands of Islam in Kattankudi in Eastern Sri Lanka, Zahran Hashim had led the group of suicide bombers on April 21 and perished in the attack on Shangri-La hotel. There could be some aspirants for the leadership of the group led vacant by his death.
Lankan Army chief Lt.Gen.Mahesh Senanayake told Reuters here on Friday that there may be people who are seeking the leadership of Zahran’s group, the National Tawheed Jamaat (NTJ), and that the forces are on the look-out for these.
“Our understanding is that Zahran who commanded and orchestrated the bombings. However there may be other important players linked to the militant ideology and seeking leadership,” the General said.
Trips To India
Gen.Senanayake further said the bombers had mostly used local explosives “but may have also sourced some from southern India, likely Tamil Nadu.”
He said some suspects had gone to India, mainly to Kerala, Bengaluru and Kashmir for training. However, there is no reliable information on this. Investigators are still trying to determine more details around their travels, he added.
He ruled out pilgrimages as the reason for their visits to India.
Senanayake said that investigators had established that the plotters had links to Islamic State, but added that the authorities were still trying to establish how deep those contacts were.
“We don’t have to worry about the situation; it is controllable, it is contained. We are quietly confident that normalcy is brought back without any second round of militant attacks.”
The attacks in churches and hotels across the Indian Ocean island on April 21 killed more than 266 people, including 44 foreign nationals.
Sri Lankan authorities have said the bombings were believed to have been carried out by two little-known domestic Islamist groups, the National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI).
Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
“Definitely there is an IS link. That doesn’t mean it was a direct IS hit. But we are trying to establish how deep it is in order to plan our (military) operations,” the General said.
The focus of the probe is on the plotting, funding and planning of the attacks, as well as the precise nature of the offshore links – including whether any of the explosives came from southern India, Senanayake said.
Investigators from eight countries, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Interpol, are helping Sri Lanka with the investigation.
Senanayake further said that India, China, United States, Israel, Australia and the United Arab Emirates were looking to provide high-grade military technology, including communication and surveillance equipment, to deal with future threats.
Asked to comment on a report that India’s National Security Guard commandoes were at the ready to join in any security operations in Sri Lanka, Gen.Senanayake said while respecting India’s offer of help, Sri Lanka itself has a fund of experience in tackling terrorists which it has been sharing with other countries.