Sri Lanka: Islamist Easter Bomber Studied in UK, Australia, Death Toll Hits 359

Sri Lanka
ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
JACK MONTGOMERY

Sri Lankan officials say at least one of the suspected radical Islamic terrorists who targeted Christians and tourists on Easter Sunday studied in Britain and Australia.

Deputy Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told a briefing on Wednesday, “We believe that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and then later on did his post-graduate [degree] in Australia before coming back to settle in Sri Lanka,” the BBC reports.

This revelation comes as the death toll in the South Asian island nation, known as Ceylon when it was still a British crown colony and, until 1972, an independent Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, reaches 359.

Mr Wijewardene has not publicly disclosed the identity of the suspected terror bomber who was able to settle in Britain and Australia for a period at this time, but did reveal that “most of [the suspected terrorists] are well-educated and come from upper middle class and so they are financially independent”

“We are looking to all countries neighbouring ours for links to those countries for radicalisation. We are in touch with our counterparts in neighbouring countries and they are assisting us,” Wijewardene added.

The Sri Lankan government has attributed the bombings to the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), a local Islamist group, but is investigating possible links to larger organisations such as the Islamic State — which has claimed responsibility, saying it deliberately “targeted nationals of the crusader alliance [the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition] and Christians in Sri Lanka” via Amaq, its ad hoc news outlet.

ISIS often claims responsibility for mass casualty events, whether or not it has legitimate link to them, but Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe does believe that the attacks “could not have been done just locally”.

Sri Lanka also believes the attacks were intended as a form of retaliation for the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand.

“I think what happened in New Zealand motivated what happened on Easter Sunday,” said Deputy Defence Minister Wijewardene.

“This is according to an assessment done by intelligence. They believe it is motivated by the Christchurch incident,” he added.

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