/Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Sri Lanka Bombings

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Sri Lanka Bombings

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Easter bombings that killed more than 300 people in Sri Lanka and posted a video that it said showed the suicide bombers, dressed in black robes, declaring their loyalty to the group.

“The executors of the attack that targeted citizens of coalition states and Christians in Sri Lanka two days ago were Islamic State fighters,” the group, also known as ISIS, said Tuesday, according to SITE, a security-consulting firm that tracks militant organizations.

Hours earlier, Sri Lanka’s defense minister said the government had information indicating the plotters were reacting to last month’s terrorist attack on mosques in New Zealand, but the prime minister later Tuesday made clear that no direct link had been established.

“It’s possible it could have been because of Christchurch,” said Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, referring to the New Zealand city where the attack took place. “We don’t know.”

The prime minister said additional attackers may still be at large, some armed with explosives.

Photos: Coordinated Explosions Rock Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday


Photos: Sri Lanka Buries Its Dead

In the aftermath of Easter Sunday bombings of churches and hotels that killed at least 321 people, friends and relatives bury the victims.

A funeral service Tuesday at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, whose members account for more than 100 of the at least 321 people killed in the Easter Sunday bombing attacks on churches and hotels.

Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press

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A funeral service Tuesday at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, whose members account for more than 100 of the at least 321 people killed in the Easter Sunday bombing attacks on churches and hotels.

Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press

If it is confirmed that Sunday’s suicide bombings were orchestrated or carried out by Islamic State militants it would be among the deadliest attacks attributed to the group outside Iraq. Islamic State has previously claimed attacks in which governments have later said they found no evidence of the group’s involvement.

Sri Lanka’s government has said it received warnings from security officials in India and the U.S. on April 4 that they had picked up indications that attacks were being planned in Sri Lanka. While those warnings didn’t include the name of a group, Sri Lankan security officials linked them to a local radical organization called National Thowheeth Jamath, which translates to National Unification Group, in a circular it distributed to police authorities on April 9.

A senior police official involved with the probes said authorities were casting a wide net to identify accomplices and members of the attackers’ network. Investigators were building on intelligence received before the attacks containing names of suspected extremists planning to target places of worship, the official said.

Police said Wednesday the official death toll rose to at least 359, the Associated Press reported.

The Sri Lankan government said there were seven suicide bombers and that it had identified all as Sri Lankan. Since the attacks, telephone records of those identified in the intelligence report were used to map out names and addresses of people they called.

Authorities located a number of houses in and around Colombo that were used for short periods to plan the attack. Those places are being monitored for new clues or suspects, the police official said.

The official said authorities are receiving complaints from residents concerned about foreigners from Muslim-majority Pakistan and Bangladesh living near the affected areas, making it difficult to separate genuine leads from those fueled by fear.

At least 26 people are in custody after a series of explosions killed nearly 300 people in Sri Lanka. Photo: Getty Images

The streets of the capital were quiet but tense throughout the first day of a state of emergency declared to allow authorities a freer hand to track down plotters. By midafternoon, concern ratcheted higher when the government issued a warning that two vehicles containing explosives were found inside the city.

At the Mahawila Garden housing complex outside Colombo—where three police officers were killed Sunday when a bomb exploded in a home they were investigating—security officers armed with rifles checked IDs to make sure only residents gained access. Local residents said police were still searching homes in the neighborhood for weapons.

One resident, A.R. Aroos, said he had noticed many new people coming and going in the neighborhood in the week leading up to the bombings. He said his house shook as if in an earthquake when the blast occurred at a nearby home, terrifying his family.

“It’s usually very peaceful here,” Mr. Aroos said. “It’s really a very well-to-do neighborhood.”

Attack sites in Sri Lanka

Mahawila Gardens

housing complex

Dehiwala Zoological

Garden

Renée Rigdon/The Wall Street Journal

Funerals and memorial services for dozens of the dead drew thousands of mourners despite safety concerns. They gathered in oppressive heat around lines of coffins near St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, with armed guards on the perimeter.

State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said in Parliament on Tuesday that the government had information connecting the Sri Lanka bombings to the mosque attacks in New Zealand, which killed 50 people. He didn’t elaborate.

A spokesman for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday the government hadn’t yet seen any intelligence to indicate a link between the Sri Lanka bombings and the Christchurch attack, while acknowledging the investigations were at an early stage.

Brenton Tarrant of Australia faces 50 murder charges after he live-streamed the massacre at two Christchurch mosques last month, the deadliest terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history.

The state minister of defense also said National Thowheeth Jamath was linked to another local group, Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. He called for National Thowheeth Jamath to be banned and its assets seized. He didn’t mention any specific actions to be taken against the other group.

The sophistication and coordinated nature of the Easter-morning attacks have led Sri Lankan and international terror experts to conclude that those responsible had help from experienced foreign terrorists, Sri Lankan officials said earlier this week.

Islamic State’s capabilities have been severely diminished as its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq has been eliminated. The last shred of its territory in Syria was captured by U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab forces last month after years of battle.

As it has lost ground, the group has increasingly turned to small-scale guerilla-style attacks in Syria and Iraq, but it also has taken root in other countries.

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Sri Lanka isn’t a member of the U.S.-led coalition that has fought to defeat Islamic State. But the hotels targeted in Sunday’s attack are popular with foreign tourists.

The island nation of 21 million people, dominated by a Sinhalese-speaking Buddhist majority, was torn for decades by a civil war between the government and a Tamil-speaking militant group, known as the Tamil Tigers, which was among the first globally to employ suicide bombings.

The country also has a number of religious minorities, including Hindus, who make up about 13% of the population, Muslims, about 10%, and Christians, about 7%. Sunday’s bombings were the worst violence the country has seen since the civil war.

Write to Niharika Mandhana at niharika.mandhana@wsj.com and Jon Emont at jonathan.emont@wsj.com