ISIS Supporters Celebrate as Sri Lanka Easter Attacks Death Toll Hits 310
Islamic State fanatics praise suicide bombers for attacks in online propaganda
Islamic State supporters have been gloating about the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday terror attacks by praising the suicide bombers in online propaganda as the death toll rises.
At the time of press, the number of people killed in the blasts, which targetted the country's minority Christian worshippers, has reached 310 with hundreds more reportedly injured.
Fanatics are said to be celebrating the Easter Sunday terror attacks as revenge for last month's Christchurch mosques shooting in New Zealand, that targetted Muslims, leaving 50 dead and 50 more injured.
No group has officially claimed responsibility for the blasts at five-star hotels and churches.
However, Sri Lankan police say a previously-unknown Muslim extremist group was the subject of an intelligence warning ten days before.
Intelligence chiefs are warning that more attacks are expected, adding that early evidence points towards Islamist group National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) being behind the bombings.
The US believes it has identified a key operative in the attacks in Sri Lanka and has initially concluded that person has connections to international terrorist organizations, including ISIS, according to two US officials.
The US has a name of that individual and is trying to determine everything it can learn about the person’s nationality and ethnic background in hopes the details may provide more clues about the attack.
The US believes that the attacks in Sri Lanka have "the hallmarks" of an ISIS-inspired attack, in part, due to the complexity of planning multiple attacks and the shocking nature of the violence, according to one of the officials familiar with the initial assessment.
For now, the US is trying to figure out just how involved ISIS may have been in facilitating the attacks, the official said.
That includes whether ISIS operatives provided planning, financing, equipment to manufacture the bombs, and whether they met directly with Sri Lankan attackers.
"We are still looking at possible connections and how deep it went," the official said.
The director of respected terror monitoring SITE Intelligence Group, Rita Katz, says IS supporters are applauding the attacks on social media and "celebrating casualties."
According to the Daily Mail, Ms. Katz said IS media channels were "posting rampantly" about the blasts and praying "may Allah accept" the suicide bombers.
She claimed that the online praise indicated the group may be preparing to take responsibility for the attacks.
"While such a claim may frame the op as revenge for New Zealand, this was likely planned long before," she said.
Several Sri Lankan Muslims from "well-educated and elite" families were known to have joined the terror group in Syria, according to Reuters.
The attacks follow just weeks after ISIS launched a global military initiative branded the "Revenge Invasion" as payback for the loss of their territory in Syria.
Police have so far arrested 13 people over the Sri Lanka attacks, describing those in custody only as "religious extremists."
Ten days ago, according to documents seen by the AFP news agency, Sri Lanka's police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers warning Islamist 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 small radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka which has no history of mass fatal attacks but came to prominence last year linked to the vandalism and desecration of Buddhist statues.
Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe admitted that information about the attacks had been received in advance but denied having direct knowledge himself.
"We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken. Neither I nor the ministers were kept informed," he said following intense anger in the community.
Three of the near-simultaneous blasts targeted worshippers attending Easter services on the holiest day in the Christian calendar.
Sri Lanka's defense ministry has now ordered curfew with immediate effect "until further notice" while access to social media messaging services has been shut down.
In Colombo, St Anthony's Shrine, a Roman Catholic church, the Cinnamon Grand; Shangri-La; and Kingsbury hotels were targeted in the first wave of explosions.
At the Shangri-La, security camera footage showed two men detonating devices in the Table One restaurant and a hotel corridor.
Other blasts hit St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.
Later in the afternoon, two died in a strike at a hotel near a zoo in the south of Colombo, before a suspected suicide bomber killed police officers in the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of the capital, as police moved in on the suspected terrorist safe house.
In all 13 suspects were arrested.
Sri Lanka defense secretary Harsha de Silva said: "Horrible scenes, I saw many body parts strewn all over."
The terror attack was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago.
Prime Minister Theresa May joined leaders across the world in condemning the atrocities while President Donald Trump vowed to "stand ready to help."
Millions of tourists visit Sri Lanka every year but political crisis and religious tension have placed the industry under threat in recent months.