Sri Lanka investigates Easter bombings
Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena has asked for the resignation of one of the country's defense ministers, Hemasiri Fernando, and the Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, over the mishandling of the intelligence reports in the lead up to Easter Sunday’s attacks, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
Warnings had been shared with Sri Lankan security services – including one memo addressed to the Inspector General of Police – ahead of the attacks but no measures had been implemented to thwart them. President Sirisea, who is also the country's Defense Minister, said yesterday that he had no prior knowledge of the advance warning.
On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s opposition MP Wijedasa Rajapaksa told a press conference on Wednesday that he forwarded a letter to President Sirisena asking him to arrest both men.
Terror has turned into grief in Colombo during a wake for a young Sri Lankan family who died in the Easter Sunday attacks at St. Anthony's Shrine.
Prathap Kanagasabai, his wife Anistie Napoleon and two daughters, Andreena, 7, and Abriana, 1, did not usually go to St. Anthony's services.
But on Sunday, they decided to attend a special Easter mass alongside hundreds of worshippers and the suicide bomber.
After the explosion, their relatives searched desperately for the family at the local hospital, the mortuary and, finally, the church.
It was there where relatives found their bodies in pieces.
Fazal Haniffa, a family friend who is Muslim, expressed his horror over the act of brutality.
"They [the suicide bombers] are not humans, they are animals," he told CNN.
A senior Muslim leader in Colombo dismissed the Sri Lankan government’s claim that the attacks on Easter Sunday may have been a retaliation for last month's massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Pointing to the relatively short period of time between the attacks, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka's vice president, Hilmy Ahamed, said it was impossible for the bombings in Sri Lanka to have been planned in the period, saying it was likely in the works for longer, with foreign influence.
ISIS has claimed the attacks in Sri Lanka, but did not mention New Zealand as a justification.
"It is nonsense to link (the attacks) to New Zealand," Ahamed said.
"The New Zealand attack opened the eyes of the world to the crisis the Muslims are facing," he said, adding it was something of "blessing" for drawing attention to growing Islamophobia worldwide.
He praised New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her response to the shootings, particularly for building connections between communities.
"We sent letters to the Nobel prize committee to award the peace prize to the New Zealand prime minister," he said.
"She definitely deserves the Nobel peace prize."
India relayed three specific warnings about possible terror attacks to Sri Lanka, ahead of the Easter Sunday bombings. The final warning was communicated just one hour before the explosions started, a person with knowledge of the information told CNN.
The first warning was communicated on April 4; the second warning was sent on April 20, one day before the attacks; and a third warning was sent on the morning of the attack.
The warnings specified that churches and hotels could be among the targets, the person said.
Sri Lankan officials have acknowledged that their country received intelligence about possible terror strikes ahead of the Easter Sunday attacks, but both the President and Prime Minister have said that they did not receive the information.
Reyyaz Salley, chairman of the Shaikh Usman Waliyullah mosque, told CNN that he had repeatedly attempted to warn the government about radical preachers in Sri Lanka, including Zahran Hashim, the alleged mastermind of the attacks.
"They started to attack Sufi mosques and shrines (in 2010)," he said.
In February 2019, Salley sent police and intelligence officials videos that Hashim made, which Salley considered promoting jihad. He urged them to act upon it.
"People have been brainwashed. He was talking about jihad. These are all very dangerous messages for the country," he says.
"If the authorities had taken our advice this could have been prevented.”
A high-level intelligence official in Sri Lanka tells CNN that National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) was planning a second wave of attacks across Sri Lanka.
NTJ has been named as the perpetrators by the Sri Lankan government, but it has not claimed the attacks.
In a statement published by the ISIS-affiliated news agency Amaq, the terror group said Sunday's attackers were "fighters of the Islamic State," but its involvement in the attacks has not been proven.
The information was discovered in intelligence operations since Sunday’s explosions, according to the official.
Some of the attackers in Sunday's deadly bombings had previously been arrested, a government official said Wednesday.
State Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told journalists at a press conference,"Some of them, in earlier incidents, had been taken into custody (following) small skirmishes, but nothing of this magnitude," he said.