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The Sri Lanka Bombings 2019: A Post Incident Report

LAST UPDATED: 23rd April 2019 

  • Approximately 310 people were killed and over 500 were wounded by eight explosions at churches and hotels across Sri Lanka.
  • 39 tourists were killed and 29 injured.
  • Seven of the explosions are believed to have been caused by suicide bombers.
  • A mosque in the Northwest of the country is reported to have been targeted in a petrol bomb attack after the explosions. Shops owned by Muslims are also reported to have been targeted by arsonists in the west of the country (exact locations not clear.)
  • ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks on their website on 23rd April 2019
  • 24 people are now reported to have been arrested in connection with the attacks.
  • Media has claimed that the Sri Lankan government received reports claiming that a group called the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) were planning attacks at churches and the Indian high commission in Colombo on April 11th.
  • The NTJ, JMI and IS are all believed to be responsible.

Chronology of Events

Warnings Ahead of the Sri Lanka Bombings

Multiple warnings received, with at least one warning referring to National Thowheeth Jama’ath Group (NTJ), a little-known local Islamist group.

21st April 2019

08:45: Explosions were reported at the Shrangri La Hotel, St. Anthony’s Church (in Kotahena Colombo,) St. Sebastian Church (in Negombo) and the Kingsbury Hotel.

08:50: Explosion reported at Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo. The attacker detonated their explosives whilst waiting in line at the hotel’s buffet. The attacker has been named as Mohamed Azzam Mohamed.

09:05: Explosion reported at Zion Roman Catholic Church, Batticaloa.

11:40: Government declared the closure of all schools across Sri Lanka in response to the attacks.

13:45: Explosion reported at the New Tropical Inn, Dehiwela.

14:45: Explosions heard at a house during a police raid on Mahawela Lane, Dematagoda as police raided a suspect’s house. Three officers were killed in the raid.

19:00: Van used to carry explosives seized in the Wellawatte area, driver arrested.

22:00: 6ft long pipe-bomb found close to Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).

22nd April 2019

Morning: 87 bomb detonators found at Colombo bus station. 12 were scattered on the ground and 75 were located in a garbage dump nearby.

COMMENT: The finding of bomb detonators at the bus station might indicate that logistically this was a transit and preparation point prior to the attacks. COMMENT ENDS

17:00: Van used to transport attackers to St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo was detonated by Explosive Ordnance Dispoal team who believed there was a ‘suspicious’ object inside.

Who is Responsible for the Sri Lanka Blasts?

On Tuesday 23rd April 2019, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka bombings on their website.

Prior to this, Sri Lankan government officials made statements blaming the NTJ, although these accusations have not been confirmed. The role of Islamic State in the attacks was also not ruled out, as in the same statements which accused NTJ, officials claimed the NTJ received foreign support.

Sri Lanka’s Minister of Defence has told Parliament that the attacks were in retaliation for the Christchurch attack in New Zealand.

COMMENT: It is likely that planning for the attack began before the Christchurch attack, but revenge has been used to frame the attack and add gravitas. COMMENT ENDS

The NTJ is an Islamic Group which has largely targeted Buddhist statues with acts of vandalism. The group has not carried out attacks on this scale in the past. Therefore, the targeting of Christians would be a change from previous NTJ activity if the group is proven to be responsible. The group’s aim is believed to be to spread the global jihadist movement to Sri Lanka, and therefore attacking other religious groups fits within NTJ’s broader rhetoric. The large scale of the attacks led many to presume that the Islamic State or al-Qaeda were responsible in some way. Both groups have been known to work with other groups in countries where they do not have a significant presence. IS, for example, has worked with separatist groups in Iran, and was partly responsible for the attack on an Iranian military parade in September 2018.

The presence of Islamic State in Sri Lanka has been reported in the past. In January 2019, a large cache of explosives was found during an operation in the Mawanella area. The cache was later found to belong to Islamic State. Sri Lankan nationals are also reported to have travelled to fight with the Islamic State abroad.

Reports have emerged from Sri Lanka since the attacks claiming that the Sri Lankan Government received information from another country warning of an impending attack at the start of April. Indian media claimed to have warned Sri Lanka about upcoming attacks, but the claims made by Indian media are yet to be confirmed.

The Response to the Terror Attack in Sri Lanka

In response to the attacks, Sri Lankan security forces have carried out a series of raids across the country, in which 24 suspects are now believed to have been arrested. In one of the raids in Colombo, three police officers were killed by an explosion. Curfews have also been introduced over night as well as bans on some social media. The Sri Lankan government has explained the reasoning for the social media restrictions and claimed that the restriction is intended to reduce the spread of fake news. Immediately after the attacks, some social media users accused Pakistan of being involved in the attacks, a claim which is both unlikely and unverified.

It is probable that inter-ethnic tensions will increase in the wake of the attacks. Petrol bomb and arson attacks have already been reported at a mosque and shops owned by Muslims in different parts of the country. Whilst the country is a majority Buddhist nation (70%,) there are sizeable Christian (7.4%) and Muslim (9.7%) minorities. Buddhist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) have in the past harassed Muslim and Christian minorities. Whilst the BBS is not known for extensive violent terrorism, their existence highlights that tensions within Sri Lanka’s religious groups exist with long term roots.


This is an ongoing report that we’re monitoring closely. The information within this post incident report will be updated after our clients have been notified of any changes or developments.

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