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Sri Lanka attacks 'retaliation for Christchurch': official

At least 321 people were killed in the coordinated attacks [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 April, 2019

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Sri Lanka's state minister of defence said an initial probe showed the deadly Easter Sunday attacks were a response to the Christchurch mosque shootings targeting Muslims in New Zealand.

An initial probe into deadly suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed more than 320 people shows it was "retaliation for Christchurch", the country's deputy defence minister suggested on Tuesday.

"The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka (on Sunday) was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch," state minister of defence Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament. 

Fifty people were killed when a right-wing extremist entered two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on 15 March, shooting worshippers as they took part in the weekly Friday prayers.

Wijewardene said investigations showed that a local group called National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) was behind the attack and was linked to a little-known radical Islamist group in India.

"This National Thowheeth Jamaath group which carried out the attacks had close links with JMI it has now been revealed," Wijewardene told parliament, in an apparent reference to a group known as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen India.

Little is known about JMI, other than reports it was established last year and is affiliated to a similarly named group in Bangladesh.

The minister said Sri Lanka was receiving unspecified international assistance with the investigation.

The comments came after government and military sources said a Syrian man was among 40 others being investigated for the devastating Easter Sunday attacks.

Earlier, authorities confirmed the death toll increased to 321 on Sunday, as emergency law giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders was imposed on Monday.

Meanwhile, foreign agents including the FBI and British counter-terrorism officials were being sent to Sri Lanka to assist in the ongoing investigation into the deadliest violence since the end of the country's long-running civil war a decade ago.

No group has yet confirmed responsibility for the attack.

Footage that was seen for the first time showed one of the bombers entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian Church wearing a heavy backpack. Eerily, the man patted a child on the head before entering the church and killing dozens in the attack.

Documents seen by AFP show Sri Lanka's police chief issued a warning on 11 April, saying that a "foreign intelligence agency" had reported NTJ was planning attacks on churches and the Indian high commission.

Top Muslim leaders in Sri Lanka demanded "maximum punishment" for the perpetrators of suicide bomb attacks on Christian churches and luxury hotels .

"We urge the government to provide security to all religious sites and to give maximum punishment to everyone involved in these dastardly acts," said the All Ceylon Jamiyyathuul Ulama, or council of Muslim theologians.

"On behalf of the Sri Lankan Muslim community we offer our condolences to the people of Christian faith and extend our hands of friendship in solidarity."

The top theologians added in a statement that they had met the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith following the attacks on three churches celebrating Easter mass.

The National Shoora Council, a group of 18 Muslim organisations also expressed condolences and said the government must not "leave any stone unturned in its efforts to apprehend the culprits whoever they may be and to whatever part of the populace they may belong to".

Ethnic and religious violence has plagued Sri Lanka for decades, with a 37-year conflict with Tamil rebels followed by an upswing in recent years in clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslims.

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