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Sri Lanka's government blames domestic Islamist group for bombings

Shashank Bengali and Munza Mushtaq, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- As Sri Lanka began to hold funerals for victims of the Easter Sunday bombings, among the deadliest terrorist attacks of the last decade, authorities on Monday named a domestic Islamist extremist group as perpetrator of the six coordinated suicide bombings at churches and hotels.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said a group called National Thowheeth Jamaath -- whose members had previously been arrested for defacing Buddhist statues -- was behind a total of eight blasts in multiple cities Sunday that killed 290 people and wounded hundreds.

"All the suicide bombers were local," Senaratne said. He added that an investigation would determine whether the bombers acted with support from international jihadist organizations to carry out the attacks, which were unprecedented in the South Asian nation's history.

Authorities have arrested 24 people. No group has claimed responsibility.

White flags and banners mourning the victims flew from street corners outside St. Sebastian's Catholic church in the Colombo suburb of Negombo, where more than 100 people were believed to have been killed in the deadliest of the bombings.

In Colombo, authorities imposed a nighttime curfew for the second straight day, with the normally crowded streets and busy seaside promenade deserted after 8 p.m.

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About 2 million Christians live in Sri Lanka, a nation of 21 million people, the overwhelming majority of whom are Buddhist. Although the island nation has seen communal discord in the past, much of it involved radical Buddhist groups targeting Muslims, and many Christians said they didn't feel at risk before Sunday.

Sri Lankan officials pointed fingers at each other over the massive security failure, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe blaming President Maithripala Sirisena -- his partner in a deeply divided coalition government -- and law enforcement agencies for failing to act on warnings of a possible terrorist attack.

Senaratne said international intelligence agencies had told Sri Lankan authorities on April 4 of possible suicide attacks targeting churches and tourist sites but that police failed to act on the information. He said Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet were not informed of the threat and accused Sirisena -- who tried in vain to fire Wickremesinghe in an ugly political standoff last year -- of shutting the prime minister out of national security council meetings.

As defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces, Sirisena is also responsible for the police. He was out of Sri Lanka when the attacks took place, but when Wickremesinghe tried to call a meeting of the security council on Sunday in the president's absence, he was snubbed, Senaratne said.

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