Thursday 23 May 2019

Islamic State claims responsibility for Sri Lanka Easter attacks that left at least 45 children dead

Terror: People near a church that was attacked leave their houses as the military try to defuse a suspected van bomb. Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte
Terror: People near a church that was attacked leave their houses as the military try to defuse a suspected van bomb. Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte
A blood-spattered statue of Jesus Christ is pictured while crime scene officials inspect the site of a bomb blast, as the sun shines through the blown-out roof, inside St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
Soldiers secure the area around St Anthony’s Shrine (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The Islamic State group has released a photo of the man the Sri Lanka government has identified as the leader of the Easter attacks, asserting its claim of responsibility for the assault which killed more than 320 people.

The group released the photo on Tuesday evening through its Aamaq news agency.

Sri Lankan authorities have blamed the militant Muslim group National Thowfeek Jamaath for the attack.

Its leader, named Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online.

Earlier on Tuesday, the country's prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said authorities suspected links to the group but were still investigating.

Islamic State, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, said six were suicide bombers who "immersed" themselves among the victims before blowing up their vests.

It said one attacker clashed with police in Dematagoda.

The group said the attackers targeted citizens of the US-led coalition fighting IS and referred to Easter as an "infidel holiday".

The Bestseller company owner Anders Holch Povlsen and his wife Anne in a file photo. Photo: Ritzau Scanpix/Jonas Olufson via REUTERS
The Bestseller company owner Anders Holch Povlsen and his wife Anne in a file photo. Photo: Ritzau Scanpix/Jonas Olufson via REUTERS

The UN children's agency said at least 45 children were killed in the Sri Lanka Easter attacks.

Unicef said 27 children died and 10 were injured in the bombing of St Sebastian's Church in Negombo.

It said 13 children died in blasts in Batticaloa and 15 were injured.

The agency says that among foreign victims, five were children.

A blood-spattered statue of Jesus Christ is pictured while crime scene officials inspect the site of a bomb blast, as the sun shines through the blown-out roof, inside St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
A blood-spattered statue of Jesus Christ is pictured while crime scene officials inspect the site of a bomb blast, as the sun shines through the blown-out roof, inside St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

Twenty children have also been taken to hospital in Colombo.

Unicef also said many children lost one or both parents in the attacks and would need psychological treatment.

More than 320 people were killed and 500 injured in the bombings.

Many funerals took place in Sri Lanka for victims of Sunday's attack, notably in Negombo which has been compared to Rome because of its numerous churches.

Mr Wickremesinghe said it was likely that there were still terrorists "out there" and said some officials will likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses surrounding the attack.

Mr Wickremesinghe acknowledged there was a prior warning and said India's embassy was eyed as a possible target.

Sri Lanka's minister of defence said the bombings were "carried out in retaliation" for attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, which claimed 50 lives, carried out by a gunman who streamed the attack on social media and has espoused extreme right views.

Ruwan Wijewardene made the comment to politicians in Parliament on Tuesday, without providing evidence or explaining where the information came from.

The office of New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern said it had not "seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based" and pointed out the probe was in its early stages.

Mr Wijewardene said the toll from co-ordinated bombings at churches, luxury hotels and other sites now stands at 321 people dead and 500 injured.

Authorities have further increased security measures after the bombings.

Police issued orders on Tuesday that anyone parking a car on the street and leaving unattended must put a note with their phone number on the windscreen.

Postal officials meanwhile said they would no longer accept pre-wrapped parcels for posting.

Police have arrested 40 suspects in the Sri Lanka attacks, including the driver of a van allegedly used by suicide bombers and the owner of a house where some of them lived, officials said.

Sri Lanka's president gave the military a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects on Tuesday, powers that were used during the 26-year civil war but withdrawn when it ended in 2009.

The billionaire behind online clothing retailer Asos and one of the UK’s largest private landowners lost three of his four children in the attacks.

Anders Holch Povlsen, 46, is Denmark’s wealthiest man and with his wife Anne holds more than 200,000 acres of the Scottish Highlands.

They set up the company Wildland in 2007 with the stated aim of restoring and conserving landscapes for future generations.

Jesper Stubkier, a spokesman for Mr Holch Povlsen’s wholesale fashion business Bestseller, told the Press Association the couple lost three children in the Easter Sunday attacks.

He declined to comment on the identity of the children and it was not clear in which of the series of blasts they lost their lives.

British woman Anita Nicholson and her two children have also been confirmed dead in the wave of terror attacks that hit Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

Mrs Nicholson's husband Ben was the only member of the family to survive the blast at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo - one of seven locations targeted by terrorists.

Local media reported Mr Nicholson desperately searching for his wife and children Alex, 14, and Annabel, 11, after the explosion.

It had been believed that Alex may have survived, but Mr Nicholson confirmed on Monday afternoon that all three were killed.

The family had been visiting Sri Lanka for a holiday from their home in Singapore.

Mrs Nicholson was a lawyer for mining and metals company Anglo American, while Mr Nicholson is a partner with law firm Kennedys.

Mr Nicholson said in a statement: "Following reports in the media over the past 36 hours, my family and I wish to confirm that my wife Anita, our son Alex, 14, and our daughter Annabel, 11, were killed in the bombing of the restaurant of the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, on Sunday morning while sitting at our table. Mercifully, all three of them died instantly and with no pain or suffering.

"I am deeply distressed at the loss of my wife and children. Anita was a wonderful, perfect wife and a brilliant, loving and inspirational mother to our two wonderful children.

"The holiday we had just enjoyed was a testament to Anita's enjoyment of travel and providing a rich and colourful life for our family, and especially our children.

"Alex and Annabel were the most amazing, intelligent, talented and thoughtful children, and Anita and I were immensely proud of them both and looking forward to seeing them develop into adulthood.

"They shared with their mother the priceless ability to light up any room they entered and bring joy to the lives of all they came into contact with."

Mr Nicholson thanked medical teams at General Hospital in Colombo for assisting him after the attack, as well as the British High Commission and holiday company Adhvan Tours.

"Anita, Alex and Annabel leave behind a large extended family and many close and cherished friends who are now grieving this tragic loss. We shall all miss them dearly," he said.

"We are all grateful for the many expressions of support and good wishes. We would ask that the media now respect our privacy and allow us to grieve together."

Press Association

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