Sri Lankan authorities believe a local Islamist militant group, assisted by an “international network” of sympathizers, carried out the string of church and hotel bombings that left 290 people dead and at least 500 injured on Sunday morning.
While they have not yet announced the responsible party, the authorities believe members of a local group known as National Thowheed Jamath carried out a total of eight bombings across the country on Sunday.
All of the suicide bombers were Sri Lankan citizens, but they were assisted by foreign sympathizers, officials announced Monday.
“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”
Suicide bombers detonated improvised explosive devices filled with small metal projectiles inside of three Catholic churches during Easter services. They also detonated bombs in three hotels in the nation’s capital, Colombo. Two additional explosions occurred during police raids on addresses in the capital.
Twenty-four people have been arrested in connection with the attacks and 87 detonator devices have been recovered from a local bus stop.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that several Americans were killed in the bombings.
“Attacks on innocent people gathering in a place of worship or enjoying a holiday meal are affronts to the universal values and freedoms that we hold dear, and demonstrate yet again the brutal nature of radical terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace and security,” Pompeo said.
“We can confirm that several U.S. citizens were among those killed,” he added. “The U.S. Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to the American citizens affected by the attacks and their families.”
Government officials said Sunday that they were recently warned by a foreign government that the National Thowheed Jamath posed an imminent threat but failed to take the appropriate precautions. The country is now in a state-of-emergency and social media platforms have been temporarily blocked.
The bombings represent a return to the sectarian violence that ravaged the small island nation until 2009 when the government reached a peace deal with the the Tamil Tigers, a Tamil-speaking militant group known for pioneering the use of suicide bombings in the 1990’s.