Nine suicide bombers, including a married couple, carried out the devastating Easter attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 359 people, authorities said Wednesday, revealing new details about the network behind the string of bombings.Eight of the attackers have been identified, said police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera. The group included two brothers and a woman, who blew herself up on Sunday when police closed in on a house in the capital, Colombo.
Ruwan Wijewardene, the state minister for defense, told reporters that the bombers used two safe houses in Colombo and Negombo. They came from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds, he said, and some were “quite well-educated people.” One of them had studied in Britain and Australia.
Sixty people have been arrested in connection with the attacks on churches and hotels, including Mohamed Ibrahim, a wealthy businessman who imported spices and owned the home in Colombo’s Dematagoda neighborhood where the police conducted a raid on Sunday.
Two of his sons were suicide bombers, and it was his daughter-in-law who detonated explosives when police officers came to the house, killing three of them and herself.
Wijewardene said the bombers had split from the National Thowheed Jamaath, an obscure Islamist extremist group based in the eastern part of the country. The leader of the splinter group carried out the suicide attack on Colombo’s Shangri-La hotel, he said.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks, but Sri Lankan authorities said its role remains unclear.Police also revealed how efforts by pastors at the Zion Church in the coastal city of Batticaloa saved lives. The bomber had originally targeted St. Mary’s Cathedral there but left when he realized mass was over, according to the senior police superintendent of Batticaloa, Nuwan Mendi.
Instead the bomber, carrying a backpack and another bag, headed for the nearby Zion Church and attempted to enter the congregation area where some 500 people were gathered. He was stopped by pastors who were suspicious of him and ended up detonating his explosives in the courtyard, where some children were eating breakfast, killing at least 28 people.