The deadly bombings that killed hundreds of people at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were carried out by a local “Islamist” group with assistance from international organisations, the government has said.
Health minister Rajitha Senaratne said seven suicide bombers who struck yesterday were Sri Lankan citizens linked to the domestic group ‘National Thowheed Jama’ath’ (NTJ).
Mr Senaratne said: “We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country.
“There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”
NTJ was previously known for vandalising Buddhist statues and in 2016 one of its leaders was arrested for inciting racism.
A total of nine bomb attacks killed at least 290 people and injured more than 500.
President Maithripala Sirisena is asking for international help to trace the bombers’ alleged global connections.
A government spokesman said: “The intelligence reports [indicate] that foreign terrorist organisations are behind the local terrorists.
“Therefore, the president is to seek the assistance of the foreign countries.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks but officials have confirmed that 24 suspects are in custody for questioning.
Sri Lankan officials said two people were involved in the attack at the Shangri-La hotel.
One bomber each targeted the Zion Church in the city of Batticaloa, St Sebastian’s church in the city of Negombo, St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, and the Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels.
Two bomb which went off hours later at a guesthouse and near an overpass on the outskirts of Colombo are still under investigation.
The perpetrators detonated explosives at a safe house near the overpass blast as police closed in, killing three officers.
Sri Lankan police found 87 bomb detonators at the main bus station in Colombo earlier today and a large bomb was defused on an access road to the international airport.
Majority of the victims were Sri Lankan but victims also included people from the UK, the US, Australia, Portugal, Denmark, Japan and China.
The president has declared a nationwide emergency that will go into effect at midnight tonight, following a curfew and blocks on social media.
The state of emergency will grant the military and the police vast powers to detain and interrogate without court orders, which was in place at various times during the civil war that raged from 1983 to 2009 with the Tamil Tigers.
There are fears that yesterday’s bombings will spark new sectarian appraisal attacks, with a petrol bombing on a mosque and arson attacks on Muslim-owned businesses already reported.