The Sri Lankan government has blamed the National Thowheeth Jamaath, a local extremist group, for the deadly attacks that claimed the lives of 310 people but also suspects international organisations may be involved.
The Sri Lankan government believes a local extremist group called the National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) was behind the deadly suicide bomb attacks, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said on Monday.
No group has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings at churches and major international hotels, which killed 310 people and wounded 500 others - the deadliest attack in the island nation since the end of a civil war in 2009.
NTJ is a splinter group of the Sri Lanka Thowheeth Jamaat (SLTJ), a political group that fell under scrutiny for advocating hardline ideas on domestic issues – SLTJ’s founder and secretary, Abdul Razik has been arrested several times on charges of inciting religious unrest.
The group came to prominence in December 2018 when its followers were accused of attacking Buddhist statues in Sri Lanka’s Kegalle district – a move that outraged the country's majority Buddhist community.
Hailing from Sri Lanka’s eastern town of Kattankudy, the NTJ promotes an aggressive form of Sharia law under its leader Zahran Hashim.
The group has a limited social media presence. Its Twitter account (which posts in Tamil) has been inactive since March 2018 while its YouTube account which espouses hatred towards other communities, although updated regularly, has very few views.
Despite its limited social media presence, the Sri Lankan Muslim community has long been aware of the threat NTJ posed to security.
the thawheed have been involved in several clashes with sufi communities around the island, for years now, mostly incited by them.— 活け造り🏳️🌈 (@imaadmajeed) April 22, 2019
Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka told Bloomberg he had alerted the Sri Lankan government about the existence of NTJ three years ago.
“I personally have gone and handed over all the documents three years ago, giving names and details of all these people. They have sat on it. That’s the tragedy,” Ahamed told Bloomberg.
But there are doubts over whether such a small, relatively unknown organisation has the capability to conduct a coordinated attack on a large scale.
Senaratne, who is also a cabinet minister, added that the government was investigating whether the group had "international support".
"We don't see that only a small organisation in this country can do all that," he said.
8) At this point, #ISIS channels—posting rampantly, praying “may Allah accept” the attackers, celebrating casualties, etc.—are clearly paving way for ISIS to claim responsibility. While such a claim may frame the op as revenge for #NewZealand, this was likely planned long before. pic.twitter.com/j4dSfs7wWB— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) April 21, 2019
Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based security expert, said the Sri Lankan group is Daesh’s branch in Sri Lanka and perpetrators were known to have links to Sri Lankans who travelled to join the hardline group in Syria and Iraq.
Other security experts say they believe the attacks bore the hallmarks of militant groups Daesh or al Qaeda, citing the level of sophistication of the attacks.
"These synchronised attacks are out of the ordinary for Sri Lanka. Compared with similar attacks in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, it has the DNA of attacks carried out by Islamic State [Daesh] and al Qaeda," said Alto Labetubun, an anti-terrorism expert who has researched the two groups for a decade.