Daesh claims Sri Lanka attacks as minister says it was ‘retaliation for Christchurch’

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People carry a coffin during a mass burial of victims, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka April 23, 2019. (Reuters)
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A man cries as he walks behind the coffin of a bomb blast victim after a funeral service at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo on April 23, 2019. (Jewel Samad /AFP)
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Sri Lankan mourners take part in moments of silence in tribute to bomb blast victims in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels. (Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)
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A Sri Lankan mourner holds prayer beads during moments of silence in tribute to bomb blast victims in Colombo on April 23, 2019. (Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)
Updated 24 April 2019

Daesh claims Sri Lanka attacks as minister says it was ‘retaliation for Christchurch’

  • Daesh says it carried out the bomb attacks in Sri Lanka killing 359 people
  • Footage shows one bomber, wearing a heavy backpack entering St. Sebastian's church in Katuwapitiya

COLOMBO: Daesh said on Tuesday it carried the bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 359 people in what officials believe was retaliation for assaults on mosques in New Zealand.
The claim, issued through the group’s AMAQ news agency, was made after Sri Lanka said two domestic extremist groups with suspected links to foreign militants were suspected to have been behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels. About 500 people were also wounded in the bombings.
Three sources told Reuters that Sri Lankan intelligence officials had been warned hours earlier by India that attacks by extremists were imminent. It was not clear what action, if any, was taken.

President Maithripala Sirisena said he would change the heads of the defense forces following their failure to act on intelligence.
“I will completely restructure the police and security forces in the coming weeks. I expect to change the heads of defense establishments within the next 24 hours,” Sirisena said in an address to the nation.
“The security officials who got the intelligence report from a foreign nation did not share it with me. I have decided to take stern action against these officials.”


A security official stands guard outside St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 23, 2019.  (Mohd Rasfan / AFP)

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told a news conference investigators were making progress in identifying the perpetrators.
“We will be following up on IS claims, we believe there may be some links,” he said.
The government has said at least seven suicide bombers were involved.
In a statement, Daesh named what it said were the seven attackers who carried out the attacks. It gave no further evidence to support its claim of responsibility.

Sri Lankan mourners take part in moments of silence in tribute to bomb blast victims in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels. (AFP)

The hard-line militant group, who have lost the territory they once held in Syria and Iraq to Western-backed forces, later released a video on Amaq showing eight assailants, seven of whom were masked, pledging allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
Reuters could not independently verify the claim and authorities did not officially identify the assailants.
Earlier, junior minister for defense Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament two Sri Lankan extremist groups — the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim — were responsible for the blasts, which detonated during Easter services and as hotels served breakfast.

Relatives mourn beside a coffin of a bomb blast victim during a funeral service at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo on April 23, 2019. (Jewel Samad /AFP)

The first six bombs — on three churches and three luxury hotels — exploded within 20 minutes of each other. Two more explosions — at a downmarket hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo — took place in the early afternoon.
Wickremesinghe said the militants had tried to attack another hotel but had failed.
Sri Lankan government and military sources said a Syrian had been detained among 40 people being questioned over the bombs.
Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were killed. That included British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.
The UN Children’s Fund said 45 children were among the dead.

Nuns walk past military personnel standing guard at the St Sebastian's Church in Negombo on April 23, 2019 – the military have been given far reaching powers to arrest people suspected of terrorism. (Ishara S. Kodikara /AFP)

Footage on CNN showed what it said was one of the bombers wearing a heavy backpack. The man patted a child on the head before entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Dozens were killed there.
Wijewardene said investigators believed revenge for the March 15 killing of 50 people at two mosques during Friday prayers in the New Zealand city of Christchurch was the motive.
“The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack,” he said.
He did not elaborate on why authorities believed there was a link to the New Zealand bloodshed, unleashed by a lone gunman.
The bombs brought a shattering end to a relative calm that had existed in Buddhist-majority country since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

Relatives carry the coffin of a bomb blast victim in a cemetery for burial in Negombo on April 23, 2019. (Jewel Samad/AFP)

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.
Pressure is likely to mount on the government over why effective action had not been taken in response to warnings from India about a possible attack on churches by the little-known National Thawheed Jama’ut group.
Indian intelligence officers contacted their Sri Lankan counterparts two hours before the first attack to warn of a specific threat on churches, one Sri Lankan defense source and an Indian government source said.
Another Sri Lankan defense source said a warning came “hours before” the first strike.
Sri Lanka’s presidency and the Indian foreign ministry both did not respond to requests for comment on the warnings.
A government minister had said on Monday that Wickremesinghe had not been informed about a warning and had been shut out of top security meetings because of a feud with President Maithripala Sirisena.
Wickremesinghe dismissed any suggestion that the rift with the president had hampered coordination on security, saying although they had had differences they had been thrashed out.
Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe last year only to be forced to reinstate him under pressure from the Supreme Court.
Tuesday was a day of mourning and more than 1,000 mourners gathered for a mass funeral at St. Sebastian church in the coastal city of Negombo, just north of the capital, Colombo, where more than 100 parishioners were killed on Sunday.
The ceremony began with prayers and singing under a tent put up in the courtyard of the church, which had most of its roof torn away by the blast.
Pall-bearers wearing white carried in wooden coffins one by one, followed by distraught relatives.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Sri Lanka who led the service, urged other churches to delay memorials amid fears that more bombers may be at large.
Security forces were on alert for more attack and the government imposed emergency rule giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects. An overnight curfew has also been in place since Sunday.
The government also said it had blocked online messaging services to stop the spread of inflammatory rumors that it feared could incite communal clashes.
The FBI is assisting Sri Lankan authorities with their investigation.

Portugal suspends visas for Iranians for 'security reasons'

Updated 16 July 2019

Portugal suspends visas for Iranians for 'security reasons'

  • Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said Portugal does not play around with entry into its territory

LISBON: Portugal has suspended the issuance of entry visas for Iranian nationals for unspecified security reasons, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
Answering a question from a committee member on whether such a move had been taken, Santos Silva said during the televised meeting: “Yes, we suspended those for security reasons ... I will provide explanations later, but not publicly.”
“Portugal does not play around with entry into its territory,” he added, without disclosing when the decision was taken.
The chairman declared the meeting closed after about two hours without further off-camera testimony.
Joao Goncalves Pereira, the lawmaker from the conservative CDS-PP party who asked the question, told Reuters: “We received information that visas for Iranians had been suspended for two or three weeks, and we just wanted to confirm that.”
He would not say what was the source of that original information or whether any Iranian nationals had complained about the situation.
Foreign ministry officials had no immediate comment and nobody was available for comment in the Iranian embassy in Lisbon.