The Easter Sunday terrorist attacks on Catholic churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka were “retaliation” for the New Zealand mosque attacks, Sri Lankan defense minister Ruwan Wijewardene recently said, as reported by Radio New Zealand. Meanwhile, the death toll from the attacks has risen to close to 300.
Speaking to his country’s parliament, Wijewardene claimed that two local Islamist terrorist groups carried out the bombings.
“The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack. It was done by National Thawheed Jama’ut along with JMI.”
It’s unclear how Wijewardene made his claims. As the Associated Press notes, there is, as of this writing, no evidence to conclude that the bombings were retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attacks. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, for her part, says that she is unaware of any links between the Sri Lanka attacks and the New Zealand attacks.
“New Zealand has not yet seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based.”
Complicating matters further is the fact that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to The Guardian, without providing any evidence to back up their claim. Terrorism experts say that the nature of the attack does bear some similarities to ISIS’ methods. However, the British newspaper notes that the organization has made false statements in the past.
Prior to Tuesday’s flurry of news about the attack, including ISIS’ claim of responsibility and the Sri Lankan defense minister linking the attacks to the New Zealand attacks, officials had suspected a little-known, local terrorist group known as National Thowheeth Jama’ath, one of the two groups mentioned by Wijewardene. The other, JMI, or Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim, is also a local Sri Lankan Islamist group, according to Al Jazeera.
Neither group is known to have carried out any terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka or anywhere else, and in fact, according to SBS News, the worst either group had done prior to Easter Sunday was vandalism of some Buddhist statues. However, Cabinet minister and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne is convinced that neither group nor the two groups together couldn’t have carried out such a sophisticated series of coordinated attacks without international help — perhaps from ISIS.
“We don’t see that only a small organization in this country can do all that,” she said.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the Easter Sunday attacks has risen to 290, as CNN reported early Tuesday morning. Officials have made 24 arrests, and the FBI and Interpol officials are assisting Sri Lankan officials with the investigation.