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Monday June 27th, 2022

Threat subsides, Sri Lanka Easter bombers home-grown: investigators

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Easter bombers were from a home grown outfit, but with foreign expertise in the manufacture of “Mother of Satan” bombs, the trade mark of the Islamic State.

Both police and military investigators believe they have accounted for almost all the followers of radicalised Islamic cleric Zahran Hashim’s who led the April 21 attack.

“The top level of Zahran’s out-fit is no more,” a senior investigator said. “The police and the military have taken care of the second level too. The threat of a repetition of April 21 bombings is extremely unlikely.”

The officer agreed that there still may be a few who have escaped the security net, but their ability to stage new attacks was almost nil. “The operational capability of remnants is almost non-existent.”

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said that nearly 90 people, including 10 women, were in custody in connection with the bombings thatkilled 258 people and wounded nearly 500. Army chief Mahesh Senanayake also expressed confidence that Zahran Hashim’s group could no longer pose a threat.

Here is what is known so far:

The bomb

The bombers used triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an unstable blend of chemicals favoured by the Islamic State group which calls it "Mother of Satan." TATP is a white crystal powder that Zahran’s outfit had made locally, but possibly with the help of foreign experts.

It is the TATP that ties Zahran’s National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) to the Islamic State. However, evidence so far suggests that the NTJ carried out the attack as a shout out to the IS and that there was no direct IS involvement in the attacks.

It is believed that Zahran or other members of his group had TATP manufacturing training either in Sri Lanka or abroad.

In January, police found about 100 kilos of high explosives following the discovery of 100 detonators from a location near Wilpattu national park. This find was made as the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probed the December 26, 2018 desecration of Buddha statues in Mawanella. At the time, the authorities had not pin-pointed the explosives as TATP.

The attackers

Hashim and six other bombers staged the attacks against the three churches and three luxury hotels. Another man and a woman also blew themselves up the same day in related incidents, bringing the number of suicide bombers to nine.

Fathima Ilham, who was pregnant, killed herself and her three children when police went to the family homes shortly after her husband Ilham Ibrahim was identified as one of the Shangri-La bombers.

The ninth bomber was identified as UK and Australia-educated aeronautical engineer Abdul Latheef Jameel.

CCTV footage showed him carrying a backpack of explosives to another Colombo hotel, but for an unknown reason did not detonate it. Instead he went to a motel outside Colombo and killed himself. A couple in the next room were also killed.

It is suspected that Latheef may have chickened-out and did not want to kill other people at the hotel restaurant having Sunday breakfast. Latheef had checked into the five-star hotel on April 19 and also attended a wedding there. He was known to the restaurant staff as an in-house guest.

There was a suggestion that his bomb may have malfunctioned, but it did work at the Tropical Inn at Dehiwala where he detonated it in a room with no other people around. The couple in the next room became collateral damage.

Latheef was the most educated and the most technically qualified out of the nine bombers. If he had chickened out at the deluxe hotel, there was no secondary detonating device for a handler to set it off. In places like Indonesia, the IS had detonated secondary triggering devices to murder would-be suicide bombers who had a last minute change of heart.

Police on Tuesday confirmed the identity of all the nine bombers following DNA tests. They reconfirmed that Zahran led the attack and there were two brothers, Ilham Ibrahim and Insaf Ibrahim, among the bombers. Their spice export business, Ishana Spice Exports, appeared to have been the main funder of Zahran.

Militant followers

Army chief, Lieutenant General Senanayake, said six Muslim men who had pledged to carry out suicide bombings were killed when their safe house near the eastern town of Kalmunai was raided on April 26.

Three men inside the house and three outside tried to fight off security forces. When they ran out of ammunition, they recorded a video message and blasted themselves.

Along with the six men, the widows of three April 21 bombers and their six children were killed.

"The network that carried out the April 21 attack has been accounted for," Senanayake said. "We are now going after the second level to make sure we sweep our extremist terrorists."

Foreign help

President Sirisena has said eight countries were directly helping with the investigations. The United States, Britain, Australia and India are among countries that have provided forensic and other technical support.

The army chief Senanayake said at least two suspects were arrested in Qatar and Saudi Arabia underscoring the international help to break the jihadi network in Sri Lanka. China has offered a fleet of vehicles to bolster mobility of the security forces.

The government has also acknowledged that the country’s security establishment failed to act on intelligence India provided on April 4 pinpointing who would carry out the attack when and where.

Internal investigation into security lapses is underway. (COLOMBO, May 22, 2019).

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