A terrorist walks into a Sri Lankan church. Picture: TV 9.
A terrorist walks into a Sri Lankan church. Picture: TV 9.

Attacker ‘calmly’ bombs Sri Lankan church

CHILLING images shows a sick suicide bomber "calmly" walking into a Sri Lankan church moments before he killed 67 innocent worshippers, it has been claimed.

The clip, which Indian channel TV 9 claims shows the attacker, features a man wearing a large backpack as he enters St Sebastian's Church.

 

In the chilling footage, the man is shown wearing a large backpack. Picture: TV 9.
In the chilling footage, the man is shown wearing a large backpack. Picture: TV 9.

 

At least 290 people died in co-ordinated terror assaults at churches and hotels in the country on Easter Sunday.

One survivor at the St Sebastian's church in the town of Negombo claims "a very young and innocent" man walked into the place of worship and touched his granddaughter on the head, The Sun reports.

Dilip Fernando said: "At the end of the mass they (his family) saw one young man go into the church with a heavy bag.

"He touched my granddaughter's head on the way past. It was the bomber."

Harrowing pictures show that the devastated church's roof was destroyed and most of its windows were blown out by the sickening bomb attack.

This morning, Manisha Gunasekera, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK, said eight Britons were killed in the terror assaults.

Speaking to the BBC, she said: "As of now I think there is information on eight nationals who have lost their lives and the other numbers are of other nationals."

The Sri Lankan government has today named local Jihadi terror group National Thowheeth Jama'ath as being responsible for the horrific attacks.

THE GROUP BLAMED FOR ATTACKS

A little-known Islamist extremist group may have had "international support" in carrying out a wave of suicide bombings at churches and hotels across Sri Lanka that killed 290 people and injured 500 on Easter Sunday.

Sri Lankan government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne on Monday afternoon officially blamed homegrown radical group National Thowheeth Jama'ath for the deadly attacks.

Two Australians, a mother and her 10-year-old daughter, were killed in the bombings while another two Australians were injured.

Senaratne told a news conference in Colombo all of the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens, but the government did not believe the attacks "were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country".

"There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded," he said. "We are now investigating the international support for them, and their other links, how they produced the suicide bombers here, and how they produced bombs like this."

Police earlier arrested 24 people in a series of raids. Government officials declined to identify those arrested for fear of fanning ethnic tensions, but news agency AFP cited a police source saying all came from the same radical group.

National Thowheeth Jama'ath rose to attention last year after it was linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues. Its secretary, Abdul Razik, was arrested in 2016 on charges of inciting racism.

 

Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, told The New York Times the group's goal was to foment religious hatred and sow divisions in society.

"It is not about a separatist movement," she said. "It is about religion and punishing."

Earlier on Monday, Sri Lanka's telecommunications minister Harin Fernando took to Twitter with an image showing a purported intelligence memo warning of a terror attack, demanding to know why the warning was ignored.

The memo, dated April 11 and written in Sinhalese with some English, included a reference to National Thowheeth Jama'ath and named specific members.

"Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence," Mr Fernando wrote. "Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored."

Indian media on Monday reported that one of the men identified in the memo, a prolific online preacher for National Thowheeth Jama'ath, was one of the suicide bombers who struck the Shangri-La Hotel.

Shortly after his name began circulating online, YouTube removed his account "for violating YouTube's Terms of Service".

At the news conference, Senaratne apologised for intelligence failures, saying Sri Lankan authorities had been warned of the terror threat at least 10 days earlier but those warnings were not passed on to the prime minister.

"On the 4th of April, 14 days before these incidents occurred we had been informed about these incidents," he said.

"On the 9th of April, the chief of national intelligence wrote a letter and in this letter many of the names of the members of the terrorist organisation were written down. The prime minister was not informed by these letters and revelations."

The breakdown in communication has been blamed on the fractured relationship between prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and president Maithripala Sirisena, who holds the defence portfolio.

Sirisena, who was out of the country at the time of the attacks, last year sacked Wickremesinghe and dissolved the cabinet, sparking a constitutional crisis.

The Supreme Court reversed his actions, but the prime minister has not been allowed into meetings of the Security Council since October.

"This is the only country where when the prime minister summons the security council they don't assemble," Seranatne told the news conference. "We are not trying to evade responsibility but these are the facts. We were surprised to see these reports."

Seranatne promised compensation for victims' families and those injured. "Today we have decided as a cabinet that we shall compensate all the people who died. 100,000 rupees ($800) for their funeral expenses," he said.

He also said the government would pay to rebuild the churches. "This will start very soon," he said. "We are responsible, we are very sorry and we are doing our best to apologise to everybody."

Seven suicide bombers struck six locations near simultaneously on Sunday - two at the Shangri-La Hotel, one each at Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels, St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian's church in Negombo and Zion Church in Batticaloa.

Two more bombs exploded hours later, one near an overpass on the outskirts of Colombo and another at a safe house near that blast, killing three police officers.

On Monday night, a van parked near St. Anthony's Shrine exploded, but no injuries were reported. Police went to inspect the van Monday after people reported it had been parked near the shrine since Sunday.

They discovered three bombs that they tried to defuse. Instead, the bombs detonated, sending pedestrians fleeing in panic.

 

frank.chung@news.com.au



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