Colombo, Apr 24: One of the attackers behind the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka studied in the UK, officials say, as further details on the bombers emerge. The country's deputy defence minister said the bomber studied in the UK before doing a course in Australia, according to a BBC News report.
The announcement came after the death toll rose again to 359 on Wednesday, with more than 500 people wounded. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the Islamic State (IS) group may be linked to the blasts. IS has said it was responsible for the attacks, which targeted churches and high-end hotels, although it has not provided direct evidence of its involvement.
Key information from officials on Wednesday:
* Police have identified eight out of nine attackers - one of whom was a woman - with no foreigners among them
* Most of the attackers were "well educated" and "middle class"
* The US envoy to Sri Lanka warned there were "ongoing terrorist plots" in the country
* Police have now detained around 60 people in connection with the attacks
"We believe that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and then later on did his postgraduate in Australia before coming back to settle in Sri Lanka," Deputy Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told a briefing on Wednesday.
Mr Wijewardene said that "most of [the attackers] are well educated and come from... middle or upper middle class" families. "They are financially quite independent and their families are quite stable financially," he added. Two of the bombers are reportedly brothers and the sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader. They detonated their explosives at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels, police sources told the AFP news agency.
Authorities say they are looking into possible links between the locals who carried out the suicide bombings and the Islamic State group. Sri Lanka's government has blamed the blasts on local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ). But Mr Wickremesinghe said the attacks "could not have been done just locally".
"There had been training given and a coordination which we are not seeing earlier," he said. Police have now detained around 60 suspects in connection with the attack. A state of emergency remains in effect to prevent further attacks.
The nearly simultaneous attacks targeted three churches packed for Easter services and three major hotels in the capital, Colombo. An attack on a fourth hotel on Sunday was foiled, Mr Wickremesinghe said. He also warned that further militants and explosives could still be "out there" following the attack. The country remains tense with police still looking for suspects and possible further explosives. Cautioning about "ongoing terrorist plots in the country", US envoy to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz told reporters that terrorists could "strike without warning".
IS said it had "targeted nationals of the crusader alliance [anti-IS US-led coalition] and Christians in Sri Lanka" via its Amaq news outlet. It provided no evidence for the claim but shared an image on social media of eight men purported to be behind the attack. The group's last territory fell in March, but even then experts had warned it does not mean the end of IS or its ideology. Mr Wijewardene has also told parliament that NTJ was linked to another radical Islamist group he named as JMI. He gave no further details.
He also said "preliminary investigations" indicated that the bombings were in retaliation for deadly attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March. NTJ has no history of large-scale attacks but came to prominence last year when it was blamed for damaging Buddhist statues. The group has not said it carried out Sunday's bombings. The Sri Lankan government is facing scrutiny after it emerged the authorities were warned about a possible attack.
Security services had been monitoring the NTJ but the prime minister and the cabinet were not warned, ministers said. On Tuesday, President Sirisena promised "stern action" over the failure to pass on the warnings and said he would restructure the country's police and security services. The first mass funeral was held on Tuesday, as Sri Lanka marked an official day of mourning for the victims. Most of those who died were Sri Lankan nationals, including scores of Christians attending Easter Sunday church services.
Some 38 foreign nationals were among the dead, with another 14 unaccounted for. The death toll includes at least eight British citizens and at least 11 Indian nationals. The mass funeral for about 30 victims took place at St Sebastian's church in Negombo, north of Colombo, which was one of the places targeted in Sunday's blasts. Another funeral service was scheduled for later on Tuesday. A moment of silence was also observed at 08:30 on Tuesday, reflecting the time the first of six bombs detonated. (UNI)