Sri Lanka Identifies Radical Imam Suspected of Masterminding Easter Bombings

Tuesday, April 23, 2019
By Paul Martin

22 Apr 2019

No individual or group has made a formal claim of responsibility as of Monday morning for the horrific Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed almost 300 people at the latest count, but the Sri Lankan government considers a radical Islamist group called National Towheeth Jamath (NTJ) and its leader, Imam Moulvi Zahran Hashim, the prime suspects.

Sri Lankan Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne described the group on Monday as an “international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

“There had been several warnings from foreign intelligence agencies about the impending attacks. Persons named in intelligence reports are among those arrested. Some named in the reports had died during attacks,” Senaratne said.

“We don’t see how a small organization can do all of this. We are now investigating international support for the group and their other links,” he said.

Senaratne said the Sri Lankan government received “several warnings from foreign intelligence agencies about the impending attacks.” At least one of these warnings was a document that explicitly named the NTJ and said they planned to attack churches.

Other officials were equally insistent the bombers had assistance from foreign terrorist organizations. Sri Lankan authorities have made 24 arrests so far in the course of investigating the attacks.

NTJ, whose name is sometimes rendered in English as “National Thowheed Jamath,” is a previously obscure extremist group that split off from an Islamist organization called Sri Lanka Towheeth Jamath (SLTJ) several years ago.

The precise timing and degree of the separation is somewhat murky, in part because NTJ keeps a surprisingly low profile for an extremist organization in the Information Age. The BBC noted on Monday that NTJ only updates its Facebook page once every few weeks, has not issued a tweet since March 2018, and appears to have taken its website offline.

Indian Express reported the Sri Lanka Towheeth Jamath is taking pains to distance itself from NTJ, condemning the Easter Sunday attacks and calling for “the highest punishment to the perpetrators.” The SLTJ organized a blood drive for victims of the attacks on Sunday and used its Facebook page to offer further assistance.

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