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The death toll in the horrific suicide bomber attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka has now topped 320 and the total number of arrests in connection to the bombings now includes at least 40 suspects.
On Tuesday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. In a brief statement issued through its Amaq propaganda arm, ISIS declared Tuesday that “the perpetrators of the attack” were “Islamic State fighters,” NBC News reports. The group later posted a photo of eight of its radical followers — all masked, except one — that supposedly were behind the attacks; the names listed by the terrorist group were pseudonyms.
Officials have said that evidence points to a smaller radical Islamic group operating inside the country as having orchestrated the deadly attacks, perhaps in coordination with the international group.
Reuters reported Monday that Sri Lankan authorities believe that the attack was carried out in part by a “little known” Sri Lanka-based terrorist organization, National Thowheed Jamath. According to The Jerusalem Post, the group was founded by Moulvi Zahran Hashim, an imam with “a history of racism and Islamic superiority.”
Officials say the investigation into the attacks is progressing rapidly. Prime Minister Ranil Wikremesinghe announced Tuesday that at least 40 suspects have been taken into custody. The prime minister noted that all of the suspects are Sri Lankan nationals, some of whom had traveled out of the country before returning to allegedly carry out the plot.
Authorities say that early evidence suggests that the attacks were a “retaliation” for the March 15 mass shooting at two mosques by a white supremacist in Christchurch that left 50 people dead.
“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament in a statement reported by NBC. However, Wikremesinghe has slightly walked back the claim, stating that it was “possible” the bombings were prompted by the New Zealand shooting.
Officials have also admitted that they had “prior information” about potential terrorist activity.
“Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored,” a Sri Lankan telecommunications minister told media Sunday night. Another minister noted that administrators in his division had also received threats, indicating that two jihadist suicide bombers were planning attacks, but that he’d heard the attacks would be assassinations, not mass terror attacks.
Reuters reports that certain Sri Lankan officials admitted to hearing about threats against “prominent churches” more than a week ago from a “foreign intelligence agency,” but ministers and police weren’t given any information.
In the aftermath of the terror attacks, tensions are running high in Sri Lanka. AFP reported Monday that the bombings have already taken a toll on the country’s lucrative, emerging tourism industry, as tourists are “scrambling to flee” the country and cancelling their holidays.
“The US has revised its travel advisory for Sri Lanka, warning of further possible terrorist attacks, while other nations such as Australia and Ireland have also advised citizens to exercise caution while in the country,” the agency reports.