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Sri Lankan minister says bomb attacks was revenge for Christchurch

Sri Lankan official says Easter attacks were in retaliation for Christchurch mosque attacks

COLOMBO: Devastating Easter bombings in Sri Lanka were retaliation for attacks on mosques in New Zealand, a Sri Lankan official said yesterday, as Islamic State claimed responsibility for the coordinated blasts that killed 321 people.

Islamic State's claim, issued on its AMAQ news agency, came shortly after Sri Lanka said two domestic Islamist groups, with suspected links to foreign militants, were believed to have been behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels, which wounded about 500 people.

Islamic State gave no evidence for its claim.

Three sources with direct knowledge of the matter said yesterday that Sri Lankan intelligence officials had been tipped off about an imminent attack by Islamist militants hours before the series of suicide bombings.

RETALIATION

The government has said at least seven suicide bombers were involved.

"The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack," Junior Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament.

He did not elaborate on why authorities believed there was a link to the killing of 50 people at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch during Friday prayers on March 15. A lone gunman carried out those attacks.

Mr Wijewardene said two Sri Lankan Islamist groups - the National Thawheed Jama'ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - were responsible for the blasts early on Sunday.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament he believed the attacks had links to Islamic State, and told reporters that the government's security agencies were monitoring Sri Lankans who had joined the group and returned home.

"We will be following up on Islamic State claims. We believe there may be links," he said.

Earlier, government and military sources said a Syrian had been detained among 40 people being questioned over the bombs.

Yesterday was declared a national day of mourning and the funerals of some of the victims were held, as pressure mounted on the government over why effective action had not been taken in response to a warning in early April about a possible attack on churches by the little-known National Thawheed Jama'ut group.

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were killed. That included British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

The UN Children's Fund said 45 children were among the dead.

The bombs brought a shattering end to a relative calm that had existed in the Buddhist-majority Indian Ocean island since a bitter civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

The Washington Post quoted an unidentified law enforcement official as saying US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were being sent to Sri Lanka to help with the investigation.

The attacks have also underlined concern over fractures in Sri Lanka's government, and whether the discord prevented action that might have stopped them. A government minister said that Mr Wickremesinghe had not been informed about the warning and had been shut out of top security meetings because of a feud with President Maithripala Sirisena. - REUTERS

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