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Sri Lanka's government sees attacks as "Christchurch retribution"

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On Sunday it was still the shock of everything that put the people in Sri Lanka in the bones. On Monday there was also anger - and many questions for the government. In the meantime, the number of deaths after the alleged Islamist attacks on churches and hotels has risen to 359 on Sunday.

As Deputy Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament on Tuesday, the government suspects that the attacks were "a response to the Christchurch attack". One of the alleged bombers started sharing more extremist material on social media after the attack on mosques in New Zealand with 50 dead five weeks ago. However, it was not immediately clear whether the attacks themselves or their targets were intended to be responses to the Christchurch attack. Terrorism experts assume that it would take much longer than five weeks to plan such a sophisticated attack.

On Tuesday, pictures were shared on the Internet that are said to show three of the alleged assassins. They pose in front of a flag of the terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS). The terrorist militia later claimed the attacks through its Amaq agency. However, she did not provide any evidence.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Tuesday that some suspects were on the run and that some of them were carrying explosives. Some of the attackers were abroad.

More powers

The cabinet of President Maithripala Sirisena has declared a state of emergency in order to "maintain public order" and also to ensure that the population is supplied with food. Security forces are now given additional powers to make arrests. Meanwhile, 42 people are said to be at least temporarily in custody, including a Syrian.

20 houses have been searched. However, there is still no information about possible international backers. As it was said on Tuesday, a Syrian citizen is said to be in the custody of the authorities who is being questioned. It was not possible to find out whether there was any concrete suspicion against him. He was arrested apparently as a result of interrogation of Sri Lankan suspects.

Information apparently not passed on

The day after the devastating terrorist attacks on three Christian churches and three luxury hotels, the government had to admit that it had been informed for days about plans by the local Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) - but that this information was apparently never the one responsible Reached positions in the police. The government announced on Tuesday that, in addition to NTJ, another Islamist group, the Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim (JMI), is believed to be responsible for the attacks.

Without reacting to the information from April 11, the attackers were apparently able to implement their plans largely unhindered on Easter Sunday: at 8:45 a.m. local time, the probably six suicide bombers entered three churches and three hotels. In the Catholic Church of St. Anthony in Colombo and in the Church of St. Sebastian in the city of Negombo and in the Protestant Church of Zion in Batticaloa, one of them blows himself up during the Easter celebrations. Almost 100 people are killed in Negombo alone.

At the same time, three other terrorists enter luxury hotels in Colombo. In the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Hotel, they set off their explosives in the midst of the guests at the breakfast buffet. Later that day, other people were killed in smaller attacks in hotels and in a police raid. Around 40 foreign nationals were among the dead. 500 more people are injured - at least because the victims were still counted on Tuesday.

Dispute paralyzes government

Little was heard from the government on Sunday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe later announced that he had met representatives of the security authorities during this time and discussed the situation with them. He also convenes the Security Council, which, according to the constitution, he cannot actually do - several ministers therefore apparently do not appear. President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also Minister of Defense and responsible for the Security Council, has been abroad for days at the time. Apparently he is on a private pilgrimage in India - he only speaks up later and speaks of "attacks" on the country. He only returns on Monday and then announces the imposition of a state of emergency.

How quickly the security forces really knew about the background of the incident on Sunday is not certain. In any case, the warning that had been before them since April 11th specifically mentions the NTJ and possible attacks on churches. Even the names of several men who later became suspected assassins are mentioned.

It is also unclear how the fatal chaos came about when the information was passed on. Presumably the background lies in the quarreling of the government: The president dismissed his prime minister in November, accused him of murder plans and replaced him with ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa. He then had to reverse the move after a judgment by the Supreme Court - the government has since been deeply divided.

Little known group so far

As a result, only a few police stations received the warning. How seriously they took it in the absence of political pressure is uncertain. Because the NTJ was actually considered radical, but not as powerful. It was not entirely clear with which international terrorist group it had allied to carry out the logistically demanding attacks. This is also due to the fact that there was initially no commitment to the attack. It was only known that supporters of the "Islamic State" (IS) praised the act on the Internet.

In any case, there was another brief alarm on Monday: Around 90 detonators were found at a bus station - and a van that the police had classified as suspicious exploded near the St. Anthony's Church. Nobody was injured. (Manuel Escher, red, April 23, 2019)