An image grab issued by IS's propaganda agency Amaq, allegedly shows eight men it said carried out the deadly suicide bomb blasts on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Picture: Amaq/AFP
An image grab issued by IS's propaganda agency Amaq, allegedly shows eight men it said carried out the deadly suicide bomb blasts on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Picture: Amaq/AFP

Sri Lanka bomber’s Aussie links revealed

A SRI Lankan suicide bomber who carried out one of numerous Easter Sunday bombings studied at a Melbourne university several years ago, it has been reported by Nine Newspapers.

Counter-terrorism authorities believe there is no known threat connected to Australia as the man has not been found to be connected to any network of extremists in Australia.

Australian Federal Police officers are in Sri Lanka helping authorities there with an active investigation.

Sri Lankan Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said on Wednesday: "We believe that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and then later on did his postgraduate in Australia before coming back to settle in Sri Lanka."

He added that most of the attackers are "well-educated" and come from financially stable middle and upper-middle-class families.

Sri Lanka's president has asked for the resignations of the defence secretary and the national police chief after security forces failed to act on warnings before Easter suicide bombings that killed at last 359 people and left 500 injured.

President Maithripala Sirisena's office announced that he asked for the resignations but it wasn't immediately clear who would replace them.

Mr Sirisena said during a televised speech that he planned to change the head of the defence forces within 24 hours.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for Easter Sunday's attack, which struck churches and hotels in the island nation. A Sri Lankan official has blamed breakaway members of two obscure local extremist Muslim groups.

Sri Lankan security forces detained 18 new suspects in the Easter bombings as the government admitted that "major" intelligence lapses had led to a failure to prevent the attacks.

The 18 new arrests were made in night-time raids using emergency powers, said police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera.

Fifty-eight people are now in custody and more arrests are expected in coming days, deputy defence minister Ruwan Wijewarden told a press conference.

"Some of them have studies in other countries. They hold degrees. We believe one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK, and [then] later on in Australia," Mr Wijewardene said.

He said some of the bombers had studied abroad.

But it has not yet been revealed which of the seven studied in Australia. So far only one of the men has been publicly identified, after Islamic State, through its news agency Amaq, released photos and videos of the men in the lead up to the attacks.

One video shows the men pledging allegiance to Islamic State. All but one of the men has their face covered by a black and white scarf.

IS claimed responsibility on Tuesday, saying in a statement: "Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State group fighters."

The government has said more attacks are possible and in a sign of the heightened tensions, authorities carried out at least two controlled explosions of a suspect package and vehicle on Wednesday.

The government has blamed a local Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), and said they were investigating whether the bombers had foreign help.

The deputy defence minister said it was believed the suicide bombers came from an NTJ "splinter group" whose leader had killed himself.

In the Islamic State video, a man believed to be the leader of the NTJ, Zahran Hashim, directs a group in a pledge of allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

 

Sri Lanka's police chief issued a warning on April 11 that suicide bombings against "prominent churches" by the NTJ were possible, citing information from a foreign intelligence agency.

CNN reported that Indian intelligence services had passed on "unusually specific" information in the weeks before the attacks, some of it from an IS suspect in their custody.

But that information was not shared with the prime minister or other top ministers, the government says.

"It was a major lapse in the sharing of information," Mr Wijewardene conceded at a press conference on Wednesday.

"The government has to take responsibility."

 

Anusha Kumari, center, weeps during a mass burial for her husband, two children and three siblings, victims of Easter Sunday's attacks in Sri Lanka. Picture: AP Photo
Anusha Kumari, center, weeps during a mass burial for her husband, two children and three siblings, victims of Easter Sunday's attacks in Sri Lanka. Picture: AP Photo

CNN reported that Indian intelligence services had passed on "unusually specific" information in the weeks before the attacks, some of it from an IS suspect in their custody.

But the US ambassador to Sri Lanka has denied that her government had prior knowledge of the planned attacks.

A US FBI team is now in Sri Lanka, Mr Wijewardene said, and Britain, Australia and the United Arab Emirates have all offered intelligence help.

Sri Lankan Muslim leaders said they had made complaints to police about Hashim's activities.

His whereabouts after the bombings were unknown however.

A British security official confirmed a report identifying one of the Sri Lanka suicide bombers as a man who studied in Britain between 2006 and 2007.

The official confirmed a report by Sky News identifying the man as Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed.

The official said Wednesday that British intelligence officers were not watching Mohamed during his stay in the country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

 

Work is continuing to identify foreign victims in the blasts. A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, a spokesman for his company said.

Two Australians, Eight Britons, 10 Indians, four Americans and nationals from Turkey, Japan and Portugal were also reported killed.

Melbourne mum Manik Suriaaratchi and her daughter Alexendria were among those who tragically died. They were attending Easter Sunday mass at a Negombo church.

The United Nations said at least 45 children, Sri Lankans and foreigners, were among the dead.