Colombo, April 22: Sri Lanka on Monday blamed a local Muslim outfit for the horrific Easter Sunday suicide bombings which killed 290 people, including eight Indians, and said the attacks were “a colossal intelligence failure”.
At the same time, President Maithripala Sirisena announced that he would seek the assistance of foreign countries as “intelligence reports (indicate) that foreign terrorist organisations are behind the local terrorists”.
On Monday, 87 detonators were found from the main bus station at Pettah in Colombo while a bomb the security forces were trying to defuse exploded near the St Anthony Church in Colombo, triggering panic in the area.
More than 500 people were wounded, many seriously, in the Sunday horror and were warded in hospitals even as the government investigated the complex network that meticulously targeted three luxury hotels in Colombo and a church each in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa besides two other locations in the national capital.
While no group has claimed responsibility for the bloodbath, the government said that the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), a Sri Lankan Muslim group, carried out the attacks, stunning the island nation that had not seen such gore since the end of the civil war a decade ago.
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told the media: “NTJ was involved. It is a local organisation. We don’t know whether they are linked to outsiders. All those arrested are locals.”
But he too admitted that without an international network, “these attacks could not have succeeded”.
Senaratne called the well-planned attacks a “colossal intelligence failure” and stated that despite receiving prior information, they could not be prevented. He demanded the resignation of the Inspector General of Police.
“As a government, we apologize to families and other institutions. The problem is that even when we met the Prime Minister at the Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister was also in the dark,” he said.
The government said it will hold an official funeral on Tuesday to pay tributes to the nearly 300 people killed on Easter Sunday.
With schools shut nationwide and traffic on a low key, Sri Lanka reeled under the shock of the terror attack.
Authorities said eight Indians were among the over 30 foreigners killed in the multiple explosions. Five of them were Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) activists from Karnataka who were on a holiday after the end of Lok Sabha elections in Bengaluru.
They were identified as Shivanna, K.G. Hanumantharaya, M. Rangappa, K.M. Laxminarayan and Lakshmana Gowda Ramesh. Earlier, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj named three other Indians who died: Ramesh, Lakshmi and Narayan Chandrashekhar.
An improvised explosive device (IED) was also detected near the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Monday morning and was disposed off in controlled explosion by the Sri Lanka Air Force, according to the Daily Mirror.
Police said that they had seized a van and its driver who allegedly transported some suspects into Colombo and also raided a safe house used by the attackers.
Some two dozen suspects have been arrested.
There were curbs on some social media networks to try and stop misinformation from spreading.
The first of the eight blasts took place on Sunday morning in three luxury hotels — Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-la, Kingsbury — in the heart of Colombo and in a church each in Colombo, Negombo, 30 km from here, and in the Tamil-majority Batticaloa town in the island’s east that was once a Tamil Tiger stronghold.
Later in the afternoon, another blast hit a guest house near the zoo in Dehiwala in Colombo, killing two persons, and a housing complex at Dematogoda in the city leaving three policemen dead.
Sri Lanka’s National Security Council on Monday announced plans to impose a “conditional state of Emergency” from midnight.
It said the measures would target terrorism and would not limit freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said that terrorist groups continued to plot possible attacks in Sri Lanka and urged Americans visiting that country to exercise increased caution.