On Sunday, Easter Morning at approximately 08:45 local time coordinated suicide bombings took place in Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa. These coordinated suicide bombings targeted churches, hotels, and other sites. The suicide bombings of Easter Sunday killed 253 people.

Attack Breakdown and Location:

The first reports about an attack occurred around 08:45 local time Sunday morning April 21st. Six blasts took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka. About 20 miles to North of Colombo in Negombo suffered 1 bombing at St. Sebastian’s Church and 1 bomb defused by Sri Lanka Air Force at Bandaranaike International Airport. Finally, attack occurred in Batticaloa at Zion Church about 180 miles away from Negombo.

Note: The attack time I will lay out will all begin from 08:45 Local time. If, I am able to corroborate that certain attacks occurred simultaneously I will highlight in red. I will apply rough time estimates also, so we can build a rudimentary timeline.

Colombo

6 Attacks, at least 93 dead

The attacks in Colombo started around 08:45 Sunday morning. The explosions occurred at a church (St. Anthony’s), 3 hotels (Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Tropical Inn), and in a housing complex (Dematagoda Housing Complex).

Morning Attacks 08:45-09:30 a.m. 

St. Anthony’s Church– Around 08:45 Sunday morning reports of St. Anthony’s Church had been attacked by a suicide bomber. Dozens killed or injured by the blast.

Shangri-La Hotel– (10-15 mins+) Shangri-La Hotel was had been attacked by two suicide bombers at The Table One Restaurant inside the hotel where families were having Easter Breakfast. Restaurant was located on the Hotel’s Third Floor. This attack occurred just before 0900 local time.

Kingsbury Hotel– (10-15 mins+) Reports of another suicide bombing at Kingsbury Hotel. The bombing shatters windows and walls. 

Cinnamon Grand Hotel– (10-15 mins+) Reports flow in that there was an attack on the Cinnamon Grand Hotel.

Afternoon Attacks 

Tropical Inn– (13:45) While police were carrying out raids across the city an explosion was reported in the suburb of Dehiwala, near the National Zoo at the Tropical Inn. Two deaths where reported at the scene. Later on during investigations, It was found that the bomber’s original target had being the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo. CCTV footage given to the media by the hotel, shows the bomber attempting to detonate his vest three times in the dining area and upon failing, leaving the premises at 8.49 a.m.

Dematagoda Housing Complex– (14:15) Police are questions a suspect when a bomb is detonated killing 3 police officers. 3 suspects attempted to flee but were captured.  

The wife of IIham Ibrahim was the detonator of the suicide bomb at the residence. The blast killed Fatima Ibrahim, her three children, and three police officers conducting negotiations with Fatima.

Negombo

1 Bombing, 1 Bomb Disposal

Attack/Disposal

St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church– (08:45) At the same time as the St. Anthony’s attack 20 miles to the North in Negombo the attack on St. Sebastian’s occurred as well. Blowing out the roof and causing immense devastation inside the church. Up to 100 people were killed. 

Barndaranaike International Airport– (time not verifiable)- Sri Lankan Air Force diffuses a 110 lbs pipe bomb found on location. 

Batticaloa

1 Bombing, at least 28 

Zion Church– (09:05) About 180 miles away from Negombo another suicide bomber hit Zion Evangelical Church. Batticaloa main hospital received about 300 people with injuries hours after the blast. 

The BBC reported that the suicide bomber had attempted to enter the church under the guise of filming it, but was denied access because of the ongoing service. Instead, he detonated his bomb in the churchyard, killing many children from the attached Sunday school who were taking a break.

Casualties 

The initial casualty count for the Sri Lanka Bombings was up to 359 dead and 500 injured by the blasts around Sri Lanka. In the initially Intel brief I quoted a figure of 310 dead and 500 injured. 

The Ministry of Health later drastically reduce those numbers after crossing referencing DNA samples of body parts. The death toll at the time of my Intel brief was 310 and was reduce to 258 killed by the bombings. A reduction of 52 people.  The majority of the dead are Sri Lankans with at least 40+ foreigners killed. 

Confirmed international casualties are from the UK, Denmark, Portugal, India, Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, US and China. 

Terrorist Organization(s) behind the Attacks

Rise of the National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ)

The NJT is a local militant radical Islamist group, but foreign links are suspected.  There had been no claim of responsibility before 23 April by the NJT.  NTJ’s leadership had been condemned by several Sri Lankan Muslim organizations in 2016 for advocating extreme fundamentalist indoctrination of children and for clashes with Buddhist monks, and was linked in 2018 to vandalism of Buddhist statues following anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka. 

Later that day at a press conference State Defence Minister, Ruwan Wijewardene confirmed that a second splinter group was being investigated but declined to provide details.

On 27 April 2019, President Sirisena designated Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim and National Thowheeth Jama’ath as terrorist organizations, this enables the freezing and seizure of assets belonging to those organizations.

On 3 May 2019, information was released by the Indian criminal prosecutors that Zakir Naik was arrested and charged with laundering 28 million dollars for terrorist. A claim which Mr. Naik denied. 

Terrorist Involved

Coordinator of Attacks 

Moulavi Zahran 

The bombing mastermind Moulavi Zahran Hashim, a radical Islamist imam from Sri Lanka, preached on a pro-ISIL Sri Lankan Facebook account, known as “Al-Ghuraba” media, and on YouTube. He had praised the Islamic preacher Zakir Naik for inciting Muslims without being banned.

On May 1st Sri Lankan police released the names of 8 out of 9 suicide bombers.

The attack on St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade was carried out by Alahudeen Ahamed Muaad from Central Road, Mattakkuliya.

The attack on St.Sebastian’s Church– Was carried out by Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun from AFC Road Valachchenai.

His wife was identified as Sarah – wanted by CID over the attacks – and she is believed to have died in the explosions in Sainthamaruthu.

The attack on the Kingsbury Hotel -was carried out by Mohamed Azam Mohamed Mubarak from New York Street – Colombo 12 & Bandaranaike Mawatha Colombo 12.

The attack on the Shangri-La Hotel– was carried out by Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zaharan from Mohideen Mosque Road, Kattankudy 03 and Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahamed from Mahawila Gardens,

The attack on the Zion Church– was carried out by Mohamed Nassar Mohamed Asad from Cemetary Road, New Kattankudy.

The attack on the Cinnamon Grand– was carried out by Mohamed Ibrahim Inshaf Ahamed from Mahawila Gardens, Dematagoda – he was the owner of the copper factory in Wellampitiya which was raided. 

The Tropical Inn bombing– was identified as Abdul Lathif Jameel Mohammed from Welamboda, Gampola and Lansiyawatte, Wellampitiya.

The bombing in Dematagoda– was carried out by Fathima Ilham, she was the wife of Ilham Ahamed – the suicide bomber from the Shangri-La Hotel.

Background of Terrorist

Defense Minister Wijewardene during a press conference gave the media information on the background of the terrorist who committed the bombings. 

Wijewardene announced that most of the suicide bombers were “well-educated and come from middle or upper-middle class”, and that they were “financially quite independent.” He stated one of the bombers studied in the United Kingdom before going to Australia to complete a postgraduate degree.

The ISIS Angle

The attackers are assessed to have links with Islamic State of Iraq and Levant at least in the digital sphere.

Islamic State also released a video purportedly showing their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi praising the attackers and claiming the attacks were revenge for the loss of Baghouz in Syria.

Debrief Opinion: I do not believe that these attacks where revenge attacks for the lost of Baghouz. The NJT ties and allegiance to ISIS is completely plausible because of the extremes chosen.

Nor do I believe it was an retaliation to the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand. I believe the New Zealand shooting could have been an accelerant to the NTJ’s plans but not the cause of it.

Coordinating suicide bombings of this takes capital, resources, explosive knowledge(time to learn or get someone to build the vest), and reconnaissance of the potential targets. The Easter Attacks had been in play long before Christchurch happen and the attack would have happened without Christchurch.

Government Response

The government closed facilities for security; the Defence Ministry issued a police curfew starting at 18:00 local time on the day of the attacks, and imposed a temporary social media ban, whilst the Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, had all schools closed for the following two days. The Colombo Stock Exchange announced that its operations will be temporarily suspended following the terror attacks, not opening as planned on 22 April 2019.

An improvised explosive device was found near the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo and was dismantled by the Sri Lankan Air Force.

On 22 April, the Special Task Force (STF), the elite counter-terrorism unit of the Sri Lanka Police, located a van belonging to the attackers near St. Anthony’s Shrine, the site of one of the prior day’s blasts. Upon inspection, the vehicle was found to have been rigged with 3 bombs. 

After the STF’s bomb defusing unit evacuated the surrounding area, the bombs exploded simultaneously during an unsuccessful defusing attempt. The same day, police reportedly found 87 items of bomb paraphernalia at the Bastian Mawatha Private Bus Station in Pettah.[84]

On 25 April, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) released names and photos of six suspects wanted in connection over the Easter Sunday bombings, seeking public assistance. 

On 28 April, police confirmed two of the suspects, Mohomed Iwuhaim Saadiq Abdul Haq and Mohomed Iwuhaim Shahid Abdul Haq were arrested in Nawalapitiya and would be handed over to the CID. 

Raids

Sainthamaruthu Raids

The Sri Lanka Army and the STF carried out a search operation in Sainthamaruthu where three explosions and a shootout occurred when they attempted to raid a suspected hideout following a tip-off. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up killing nine of their family members, including six children, while three other terrorists were shot dead by the soldiers. One civilian was caught in the crossfire and died, according to police, while a wounded woman and child were taken to hospital.

Another search operation in Sammanthurai based on information received by the State Intelligence Service led to a house where a stock of more than 150 gelignite sticks, IS uniforms and flags, 100,000 metal balls, a drone, a van and a laptop were discovered. An indefinite curfew had been imposed in the police areas of Kalmunai, Chawalakade and Sammanthurai.

Slave Island

A suspect was arrested and more than 40 swords, kris knives and several uniforms similar to those worn by the army were recovered from a mosque at Palliyaweediya in Slave Island.

Kalmunai Raid/ Driver Arrested

On 27 April, while conducting house to house raids in the Kalmunai area, evidence recovered linked three suspects to the murders of two police officers Dinesh Alagaratnam and Niroshan Indika on 29 November 2018 in Vavunathivu. All three suspects have been arrested and Daily Mirror reported that sources confirmed they were part of a “radical Islamist” group.

The driver of the main suspect involved in the attacks, Mohamed Sahran was arrested in Kattankudy. The Negombo Deputy Mayor, Mohomad Anzar was taken into custody with a sword, a knife and 38 mobile phone batteries.

Precautionary Measures 

State of Emergency

Following President Sirisena’s return to the island from Singapore on 22 April 2019, where he was on a personal visit, the Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency from midnight of 22 April by a extraordinary gazette notification has been issued by President under the Public Security Ordinance. This would give the government, police and the armed forces sweeping powers to under take counter terrorism activities. The government also further announced that it would hold the national day of mourning, the following day.

Curfews

Since 21 April evening, the government has imposed nightly police curfews effective island wide, with the hours reduced to 2200 to 0400 hours until 27 April. Indefinite curfews were imposed in several police divisions where incidents such as the Kalmunai shootout took place.

Ban on social media

The government temporarily blocked major social media networks and messaging services Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Viber, Snapchat and YouTube within hours of the attack. The blocking included VPN service providers that could be used to circumvent the blocks.

Some commentators condoned the move and viewed it as evidence that social media sites had failed to stop misinformation. Others criticised the block for cutting off Sri Lankans from means of communicating with relatives during a disaster and saw it as counterproductive in reducing fake news.

On 30 April, President Sirisena ordered the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) to lift the social media ban.

Thanks for Reading

This is your updated Intel Brief on the Sri Lanka Easter Bombings. I will leave links to all my resources below. If you enjoyed this post, hit that like button, subscribe, and tag a friend. If you have any suggestions, ideas, or comments. Please feel free to drop a comment. Be Humble. Be Savage. Have a great day!

Resources 

Links used in intel brief

Sri Lanka Airport

https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/apr/22/sri-lanka-attacks-bombings-live-news

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48008073

Van Explosion near church 

Raids

http://www.dailymirror.lk/top_story/Gun-battle-in-Kalmunai:-15-including-suicide-bomber-killed/155-166016

http://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking_news/Weapons-recovered-from-mosque-at-Slave-Island/108-166010

Percautionary Measures

Curfew

https://www.deccanherald.com/international/sri-lanka-curfew-shut-down-access-to-social-media-729886.html

Social Media Blackout

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/23/tech/facebook-ban-sri-lanka-intl/index.html

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/janelytvynenko/sri-lanka-social-media-block

Terrorist Information 

NTJ

https://www.france24.com/en/20190422-little-known-islamist-group-ntj-accused-sri-lanka-blasts

https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/crime/article/The-Latest-Curfew-lifted-after-Sri-Lankan-13784450.php

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/23/sri-lanka-bombing-mastermind-named-moulvi-zahran-hashim/

https://m.jpost.com/International/Who-is-Moulvi-Zahran-Hashim-mastermind-of-one-of-the-Sri-Lanka-attacks-587544

http://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking_news/Indian-’hate-preacher’-Zakir-Naik-charged-with-money-laundering/108-166414

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/04/21/sri-lanka-timeline-how-eight-explosions-wrought-devastation-easter-sunday/?utm_term=.1e8b1a7241ae

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/22/sri-lanka-bombings-a-timeline-and-visual-guide

https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/apr/23/sri-lanka-bombings-attacks-live-news

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48010697

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