The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a devastating series of suicide attacks against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 320 people.
The claim was made as a Sri Lankan police source told AFP that two Muslim brothers, sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader, blew themselves up at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels, during the co-ordinated attacks on Sunday.
The ISIS claim, accompanied by a photo and video of the men the group said had unleashed the carnage, emerged more than 48 hours after the near-simultaneous blasts ripped through three high-end hotels popular with foreigners and three churches packed with Christians marking Easter.
Sri Lanka’s government had said initial investigations suggested the attack had been carried out as “retaliation” for shootings at two mosques in New Zealand last month that killed 50 people.
Authorities in Colombo had already pointed the finger at a little-known local Islamic extremist group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), but said they were investigating whether they had international support.
“Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State group fighters,” IS propaganda agency Amaq said in a statement.
In a later statement, the group gave the noms de guerre of seven people it said were behind the “blessed attack” that targeted Christians during their “blasphemous holiday”.
Amaq also released a photo of eight men it said were behind the blasts. Seven of them had their faces covered and three of them held knives.
The authenticity of the image and video could not be independently verified, and the reason for the discrepancy in the reported number of attackers was not immediately clear.
The two muslim brothers who acted as suicide bomber blew themselves up at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels.
A fourth attack against a hotel on Sunday failed, sources also told AFP, though it was not immediately clear if the bomber’s explosives had failed or he had chosen not to detonate them.
He later blew himself up when police tracked him to a lodging in the capital.
Police have detained at least 40 people as they investigate the worst act of violence in the South Asian island nation since a civil war ended a decade ago.
But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said police were hunting for more suspects at large, including some armed with explosives, and that further attacks were possible.
“We are trying to apprehend them,” he said.
The government has imposed a state of emergency, giving police and the military special powers, including the ability to arrest suspects without a court order.
The country observed a national day of mourning Tuesday, beginning with a three-minute silence, as the bereaved began to bury their dead.
Flags were lowered to half-staff on government buildings, and liquor shops were ordered closed for the day.