Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Muslim Jihadis Behind Easter Bombings In Sri Lanka

Zaran Hashim The Islamist Preacher and Suicide Bomber
Easter Sunday explosions at multiple churches and hotels rock Sri Lanka, death tolls rises past 200: A pair holding U.S. and British nationalities were among the 11 foreigners killed after a series of explosions struck three churches and three luxury hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka’s capital Easter Sunday, leaving at least 207 people dead and 450 others injured, officials said.

The six nearly simultaneous blasts—followed hours later by two more explosions—marked the bloodshed as among the worst since the South Asian country’s 26-year civil war ended a decade ago, a spokesperson for the Sri Lanka police said.

Sri Lanka's foreign ministry said the other foreigners whose nationalities have been verified included three Indians, one Portuguese national, two Turkish nationals, and three British nationals. The U.S. State Department confirmed in a statement that “several U.S. citizens were among those killed” in the explosions, though details were still emerging. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on to condemn the Easter morning "terror attacks."

"Attacks on innocent people gathering in a place of worship or enjoying a holiday meal are affronts to the universal values and freedoms that we hold dear, and demonstrate yet again the brutal nature of radical terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace and security," Pompeo said in the statement.

A police spokesman said 13 suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks. Police said they also found a vehicle they believe was used to transport the suspects into Colombo, along with a safe house used by the attackers.

Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the attacks as a terrorist attack by religious extremists (Islamists?), though no one immediately claimed responsibility. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the violence could trigger instability in the country and its economy.

The explosions collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests. People were seen carrying the wounded out of blood-spattered pews. Witnesses described powerful explosions, followed by scenes of smoke, blood, broken glass, alarms going off and victims screaming in terror.

"People were being dragged out," Bhanuka Harischandra of Colombo, a 24-year-old founder of a tech marketing company who was going to the city's Shangri-La Hotel for a meeting when it was bombed. "People didn't know what was going on. It was panic mode." He added, "There was blood everywhere."

The first explosion occurred around 8:45 a.m. local time, with the deadliest appearing to be at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a city about 20 miles north of Colombo. Other attacks occurred at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and Zion Church in the eastern city of Batticaloa. The three hotels – the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury Hotel – all in Colombo are frequented by foreign tourists.

The other two blasts occurred in Dematagoda, where the occupants of a safehouse apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest. An official told the Associated Press that at least two of the church blasts were believed to have been coordinated attack carried out by suicide bombers.

Sri Lankan security forces in 2009 defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country's ethnic minority Tamils. The U.N. initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 100,000 but a U.N. experts' panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone.

Sri Lanka, a small island nation at the southern tip of India, has a long history with Christianity. Christian tradition holds that St. Thomas the Apostle visited Sri Lanka and southern India in the decades after the death of Christ. The majority of the island's Christians are Roman Catholic.

Sri Lankan police issued an intelligence alert warning that terrorists planned to hit ‘prominent churches’ 10 days before Easter bombings: Sri Lankan police reportedly issued a warning to top officials 10 days before a series deadly blasts struck churches and hotels in multiple cities across the country.

The country's police chief identified a known radical Muslim group as "planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches." Eight blasts were reported to have killed at least 207 and injured 450 people Sunday as worshippers across the country attended Easter Sunday mass. Authorities said seven people were arrested Sunday in connection to the attacks after a house raid.

Sri Lankan police issued a warning to top officials 10 days before a series of deadly blasts struck churches and hotels across the country, according to intelligence reported by AFP. Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara reportedly wrote in the intelligence alert that suicide bombers affiliated with a radical Muslim group planned to hit "prominent churches."

"A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama'ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo," the alert reportedly said. The National Thowheeth Jama'ath, or the NTJ, is a known group in Sri Lanka that was previously linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues, the report notes.

Eight blasts were reported to have killed 207 people and injured at least 450 in churches and high-end hotels including the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand, and Kingsbury. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said seven people were arrested in connection with the bombings after a house raid in Colombo, a capital city.

Though a 2012 census found Christians only make up 7.6% of the country's total population, they have been involved in the country's struggle amid religious tensions. US State Department said in a 2018 report on the country's human rights that some Christian groups and churches reported they had been pressured to end worship activities after authorities classified them as "unauthorized gatherings."

This is the first major attack in nearly 10 years, or since the end of the civil war, which ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Years of intermittent violence followed. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka tweeted to condemn the attacks "on our Christian brothers and sisters on their Holy Day of Easter," that cost "innocent lives due to extremist and violent elements who wish to create divides between religious and ethnic groups to realize their agenda."

Sri Lankan officials were also quick to condemn the apparently coordinated attacks on worshippers, with Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera calling the blasts "a well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem & anarchy."

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tweeted to condemn the attacks, and also encouraged Sri Lankans to avoid spreading "unverified reports and speculation" as officials gathered to form a response to the attacks.

"I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong," Wickremesinghe wrote. "Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation."

St, Sebastian Church suicide bomber was caught on the church's CCTV.

Who was behind the Sri Lanka bomb attacks?

Who was behind the Sri Lanka bomb attacks? Everything we know so far about Easter Sunday explosions: Easter Day bomb blasts at three Sri Lankan churches and four hotels killed more than 200 people and wounded more than 450, following a lull in major attacks since the end of the civil war 10 years ago.

The explosions, some of which officials said were suicide bomb attacks, led to an immediate clampdown, with the government declaring a curfew and blocking access to most major social media and messaging sites.

The powerful blasts - six in quick succession and then two more hours later - wrought devastation, including at the capital's well-known St Anthony's Shrine, a historic Catholic Church. The three hotels hit in the initial attacks were the Shangri-La Colombo, Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo and the Cinnamon Grand Colombo.

The first six explosions were all reported within a short period in the morning just as church services were starting. Hours later there were two further attacks in the outskirts of Colombo. Police said at least three of the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers.

The death toll rose rapidly to more than 200 and was expected to rise further still. There were hundreds of people injured in hospitals. There were five British citizens killed in the attack, Sri Lanka's ministry of foreign affairs stated. One Dutch person was among those killed, Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said in a statement.

The Foreign Office said it was "urgently seeking" information from authorities in Sri Lanka. A spokesman said: "We are aware of reports of a number of explosions in Sri Lanka, including Colombo, and we are urgently seeking information from the local authorities. "British nationals in Sri Lanka should follow the instructions of the local authorities and check FCO travel advice for updates."

Seven suspects were arrested on Sunday afternoon, Sri Lanka's defense minister said. The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.

But documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka's police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit "prominent churches".

"A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama'ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo," the alert said. The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalism of Buddhist statues.

The government beefed up security and imposed an immediate and indefinite curfew across the country. It also put in place a "temporary" ban on social media platforms "in order to prevent incorrect and wrong information being spread".

Security at Colombo's airport was also enhanced, according to Sri Lankan Airlines, which advised its passengers to arrive four hours before their flights. It added that passengers with passports and tickets will be able to reach the airport during the curfew. Embassies in Sri Lanka have warned their citizens to shelter in place.

Sri Lanka: One jihad mass murderer was well-known Muslim preacher who said “Allah created this land for Muslims”: That would leave out the Christians. This is Zahran Hashim, who has been identified as one of the jihad mass murderers who killed over 200 people this morning, including Christians in churches for Easter Sunday.

He stated that Islam doesn't permit standing up for National flag. Hindus, Xtians, Budhdhas are Kafirs. Allah created this land for Muslims; Kafirs have the right to live, only Muslims have the right to rule. Loyalty of Muslims should only be for the Nation ruled by Muslims.

Colombo (AFP) - The suicide bomber waited patiently in a queue for the Easter Sunday breakfast buffet at Sri Lanka's Cinnamon Grand hotel before setting off explosives strapped to his back.

Carrying a plate, the man, who had registered at the hotel the night before as Mohamed Azzam Mohamed, was just about to be served when he set off his devastating strike in the packed restaurant, a manager at the Sri Lankan hotel said.

"There was utter chaos," said the manager, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity as he is not allowed to speak for the company. The Taprobane restaurant at the hotel was having one of its busiest days of the year for the Easter holiday weekend.

"It was 8:30 am and it was busy. It was families," the manager told AFP. "He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast," he added. "One of our managers who was welcoming guests was among those killed instantly." The bomber also died. Parts of his body were found intact by police and taken away.

Other hotel officials told how the bomber, a Sri Lankan, checked in giving an address that turned out to be false, saying he was in the city for business. Two other hotels, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury, were hit at about the same time, along with three churches packed with worshippers attending Easter Sunday services.

The blast at St Anthony's Shrine, an historic Catholic Church, was so powerful that it blew out much of the roof, leaving roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor that was strewn with bodies. Authorities have not said who staged the attacks. But all suffered major casualties and damage. Many of the 35 foreigners killed in the blasts were at the hotels, officials said.

"There was utter chaos, but we rushed all the injured to hospital in a very short time," the Cinnamon Grand manager said. "About 20 people were seriously wounded and we sent them to the National Hospital." The hotel is close to the Sri Lankan prime minister's official residence and Special Task Force commandos were quickly at the scene.

At the Shangri-La, witnesses said they heard two loud blasts and that staff reported some people had been killed. But details of the toll were not immediately given. An AFP photographer saw extensive damage in the second floor restaurant at the hotel, with windows blown out and electrical wires hanging from the ceiling.

The Shangri-La said in a statment that the bomb hit at approximately 9:00 am local time at its Table One restaurant. "We are deeply saddened and shocked by the incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the casualties and those who have been affected," it said.

"Our immediate priority is to look after the safety and wellbeing of all involved. A Shangri-La crisis management team has been activated to provide all necessary support." The Kingsbury is also one of Colombo's most expensive hotels, positioned near the city's World Trade Center. The toll there was not known.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the hotel said: "On behalf of the entire Kingsbury team we share in the shock, grief and mourning of our entire nation in the aftermath of the recent attack. Medical evacuation and treatment of the injured guests and employees were handled immediately." The hotel said it had been "isolated" for further safety checks.

Police diffuse explosives in Sri Lanka discovered after deadly attacks: Bombs and detonators are still being found after explosions ripped through churches and hotels on Easter Sunday; Benjamin Hall reports on the latest.

ISIS claimed responsibility Tuesday morning for the coordinated Sri Lanka Easter bombings as the death toll in the massacre has risen to 321. The international terror group tweeted via its propaganda wing that the violence was carried out by “fighters of the Islamic State,” reports said. It later put out a second message naming the alleged bombers and the sites they targeted.

The terror group's assertion comes amid Sri Lanka's minister of defense claiming the bombings at multiple churches and hotels in Colombo were "carried out in retaliation" for attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15 by an apparent white supremacist gunman.

Sri Lankan officials also have blamed the domestic militant group National Thowfeek Jamaath for the bombings and authorities revealed the little-known outfit likely received assistance in carrying out the horrific plot. But Sri Lanka's government has not produced evidence directly linking the attacks to the massacre in New Zealand, or to National Thowfeek Jamaath.

In the past year, ISIS has lost almost all of the territory in Syria and Iraq that made up its so-called "caliphate," and the reeling Islamists have increasingly begun to take credit for militant attacks around the world while not demonstrating any evidence they were involved in the plotting.

Faith leaders in Sri Lanka told the Associated Press on Tuesday that National Thowfeek Jamaath's purported leader, known as Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, started posting videos online three years ago calling for non-Muslims to be "eliminated.” They added that their repeated warnings about National Thowfeek Jamaath drew no visible reaction from officials responsible for public security.

"It was basically a hate campaign against all non-Muslims," said Hilmy Ahamed, the vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka. "Basically, he was saying non-Muslims have to be eliminated." N.M. Ameen, the council’s president, said “some of the intelligence people saw his picture but they didn't take action.”

On Tuesday in Colombo – Sri Lanka’s capital and site of many of the blasts – heightened security was evident for a national day of mourning and the military was employing powers to make arrests it last used during a civil war there that ended in 2009.

At an international airport outside the city, security personnel walked explosive-sniffing dogs and checked car trunks and questioned drivers on roads nearby. Police ordered that anyone leaving a parked car unattended on the street must put a note with their phone number on the windscreen, and postal workers were not accepting pre-wrapped parcels.

So far, 40 people have been arrested on suspicion of links to the bombings, including the driver of a van allegedly used by the suicide attackers and the owner of a house where some of them lived, the Associated Press reported. But their identities and affiliations have not yet been revealed.

Media reports were circulating Tuesday that a truck and van believed to be carrying explosives were heading toward Colombo, but that alleged threat could not be confirmed. Authorities also said they know where National Thowfeek Jamaath trained and had safe houses, but did not identify any of the seven suicide bombers, whose bodies were recovered. All seven bombers were Sri Lankans.

A video also emerged Tuesday purportedly showing one of them wearing a backpack and casually walking into a church as Easter service was ongoing.