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Sri Lanka Muslims had warned officials about group behind attack

Iain Marlow, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

NEW DELHI -- For members of Sri Lanka's Muslim community, it's no surprise that local jihadist group National Thowheed Jamath is being blamed for deadly bombings that killed nearly 300 people on Easter Sunday.

Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said he warned military intelligence officials about the group and its leaders about three years ago. On Monday afternoon, Sri Lanka's government said National Thowheed Jamath was responsible for six suicide bombings at Christian churches and luxury hotels.

"Targeting the non-Muslim community is something they encourage -- they say you have to kill them in the name of religion," Ahamed said in a phone interview from Colombo on Monday. "I personally have gone and handed over all the documents three years ago, giving names and details of all these people. They have sat on it. That's the tragedy."

The National Thowheed Jamath has broken up into various groups as individual leaders pursued separate funding sources, Ahamed said. Although not all members of the group were radicalized, the group is "extremist in their thinking," he added.

As Sri Lanka continues to treat the wounded, questions are being raised -- including by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe -- about why Sri Lanka didn't act more promptly on warnings ahead of the Easter attacks. The government is now investigating possible links to international terrorist organizations as well.

Sri Lanka's Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Monday called on the inspector general of police to resign.

 

"The intelligence services had done the work, but it was not acted on at higher levels," he told reporters in Colombo.

Harin Fernando, a cabinet minister, circulated an internal security memo dated earlier this month that warned the group was "getting ready for suicide attacks on popular Catholic churches and the Indian High Commission." It also said the group's members were "inciting hatred" among online followers.

"Serious action need to be taken as to why this warning was ignored," Fernando said.

National police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera did not respond to several phone calls on Monday.

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