The Islamic State Group claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a devastating series of suicide bombings against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 350 people.
The claim, accompanied by a photo and video of the men the group said they had released the massacre, came more than two days after the almost simultaneous blasts by three high-quality hotels popular with foreigners and three churches full of Christians over Easter celebrated.
The Government of Sri Lanka said the initial investigations indicated that the attack had been carried out as & # 39; retribution & # 39; for shootings in two mosques in New Zealand last month, killing 50 people.
The Islamic State Group published a photo of eight men allegedly behind the attacks in Sri Lanka
Authorities in Colombo had already pointed the finger at a little-known local Islamic extremist group called National Thowheeth Jama & NT (NTJ), but said they were investigating whether they had international support.
& # 39; Those who carried out the attack on members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Muslim group fighters & # 39 ;, IS propaganda agency Amaq said in a statement.
The group later gave the noms de guerre of seven people allegedly behind the & # 39; blessed attack & # 39; layers directed against Christians during their & # 39; blasphemous holiday & # 39 ;.
Amaq also released a photo of eight men allegedly behind the blast. Seven of them had their faces covered and three of them had knives.
Maps of Sri Lanka and the capital, Colombo, marking the locations of a series of suicide attacks on April 21, 2019
The authenticity of the image and video could not be independently verified and the reason for the difference in the number of reported attackers was not immediately clear.
Sri Lankan police sources told AFP that two Muslim brothers, sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader, blew themselves up in the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels.
The Kingsbury hotel in the capital was the last hit.
A fourth attack against a hotel on Sunday was unsuccessful, sources also told AFP, although it was not immediately clear whether the bombers' explosives were not functioning properly or if he had chosen not to let them explode.
He later blew himself up when the police followed him to a stay in the capital.
The police have detained at least 40 people in their investigations into the worst form of violence in the South Asian island nation since a civil war ended a decade ago.
Sadness has robbed many in Sri Lanka in the wake of the deadly attacks, killing more than 320 people
But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the police were hunting for more suspects in general, including some armed with explosives, and that further attacks were possible.
& # 39; We are trying to grasp them & # 39 ;, he said.
The government has imposed a state of emergency and has given the police and army special powers, including the ability to arrest suspects without a court order.
The country observed a national day of mourning on Tuesday, starting with a silence of three minutes, when the relatives began to bury their dead.
Flags were lowered to half-mast on government buildings and liquor stores were ordered closed for the day.
More than 1,000 people gathered in the St Sebastian church in Negombo, north of the capital, destroyed by the blasts, to pay homage to the dead.
An older man cried uncontrollably through the coffin with his wife's body, while relatives of other victims were appalled and stopped.
Each of the coffins was taken to the church grounds for services and then to a newly established cemetery on church grounds.
The first remembrance services for the victims were held when Sri Lanka observed a three-minute silence and flags were lowered to half-mast
& # 39; It is very difficult to tolerate & said, "Father Suranga Warnakulasuriya, who had come from another parish to help lead funerals."
The attacks were the worst ever against the small Christian minority of the country, which accounts for only seven percent of the 21 million inhabitants.
Officials are investigating why, following a warning from the Sri Lankan police on 11 April, no more precautionary measures have been taken that a & # 39; foreign intelligence agency & # 39; had reported that the NTJ planned suicide bombings on churches.
Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the warning was not passed on to Wickremesinghe or other top ministers.
The attacks were also the worst ever against the country's small Christian minority, which has only seven percent of the 21 million inhabitants
CNN reported that Indian intelligence services & # 39; unusually specific & # 39; had provided information in the weeks prior to the attacks, and that at least part of it came from an IS suspect in custody.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also Secretary of Defense and law enforcement, said that he would conduct a full reorganization of security forces and police in the aftermath of the attacks.
& # 39; I hope to make major changes to the leadership of the security forces in the next 24 hours & # 39 ;, Sirisena said in a national address.
During the explosion, they continued to identify foreign victims.
Security remained strict with the churches that were aimed at Sri Lanka
A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, a company spokesperson said.
Eight British, 10 Indians, four Americans and subjects from Turkey, Australia, Japan and Portugal were also reported murdered.
The United Nations said that at least 45 children, Sri Lankans and foreigners, were one of those who lost their lives.
Of the three targeted churches, two are in the Colombo region and one in the eastern city of Batticaloa.
Ethnic and religious violence has plagued Sri Lanka for decades. A 37-year conflict with Tamil rebels was followed by a more recent revival of the clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslims.
The attacks have led to local and international outrage and have been condemned by Sri Lankan Muslim groups.
* Source: AFP