Sri Lanka bomb attacks were revenge for New Zealand mosque killings - minister

Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday bomb attacks were retaliation for a recent attack on mosques in New Zealand, a Sri Lankan official said on Tuesday, adding that two domestic Islamist groups were believed to be responsible.

"The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack," junior minister for defense Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament.

"It was done by National Thawheed Jama'ut along with JMI," he said, referring to another local group, Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Hundreds killed in Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Sunday
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Hundreds killed in Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Sunday
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ADDS DETAIL OF THE PLACE - This image made from video provided by Hiru TV shows damage inside St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Near simultaneous blasts rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. (Hiru TV via AP)
ADDS THE DETAIL OF THE PLACE - This image made from video provided by Hiru TV shows damage inside St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Near simultaneous blasts rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. (Hiru TV via AP)
ADDS DETAIL OF THE PLACE - This image made from video provided by Hiru TV shows damage inside St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Near simultaneous blasts rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. (Hiru TV via AP)
ADDS THE NAME OF CHURCH - Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Witnesses are reporting two explosions have hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, causing casualties among worshippers. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred people were killed and hundreds more hospitalized from injuries in near simultaneous blasts that rocked three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, a security official told The Associated Press, in the biggest violence in the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/ Rohan Karunarathne )
Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Witnesses are reporting two explosions have hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, causing casualties among worshippers. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
ADDS THE NAME OF CHURCH - Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Witnesses are reporting two explosions have hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, causing casualties among worshippers. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan firefighters stand in the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Witnesses are reporting two explosions have hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, causing casualties among worshippers. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. A Sri Lanka hospital spokesman says several blasts on Easter Sunday have killed dozens of people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. A Sri Lanka hospital spokesman says several blasts on Easter Sunday have killed dozens of people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan elderly woman is helped near St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded in near simultaneous blasts that rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, officials said. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. A Sri Lanka hospital spokesman says several blasts on Easter Sunday have killed dozens of people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan firefighters stand in the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. A Sri Lanka hospital spokesman says several blasts on Easter Sunday have killed dozens of people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
People gather outside St. Anthony's Shrine where a blast happened, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. A Sri Lanka hospital spokesman says several blasts on Easter Sunday have killed dozens of people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Relatives of people killed in Church blasts mourn as they wait outside mortuary of a hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Near simultaneous blasts rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Relatives gather outside a hospital following blasts in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred people were killed and hundreds more hospitalized from injuries in near simultaneous blasts that rocked three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, a security official told The Associated Press, in the biggest violence in the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
A relative of a blast victim grieves outside a morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
A Sri Lankan police commando enters a house suspected to be a hideout of militants following a shoot out in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Relatives of a blast victim grieve outside a morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Relatives of a blast victim grieve outside a morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
A view of St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)
Sri Lankan security forces officers secure a site believed to be a hide out of the militants following a shoot out in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)
Sri Lankan army soldiers secure the area around St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)
Sri Lankans carry a dead body at St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)
Dead bodies of victims lie inside St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalized with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said, the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)
Relatives of a blast victim weep outside a police morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than two hundred people were killed and hundreds more injured in eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
In this Sunday, April 21, 2019, a view of St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan authorities blame seven suicide bombers of a domestic militant group for coordinated Easter bombings that ripped through Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels which killed and injured hundreds of people. It was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne, file)
In this Sunday, April 21, 2019, photo, Sri Lankans carry a dead body at St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan authorities blame seven suicide bombers of a domestic militant group for coordinated Easter bombings that ripped through Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels which killed and injured hundreds of people. It was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne, file)
Relatives cry near the coffin with the remains of 12-year Sneha Savindi, who was a victim of Easter Sunday bombing at St. Sebastian Church, after it returned home, Monday, April 22, 2019 in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Easter Sunday bombings of churches, luxury hotels and other sites was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
Relatives weep near the coffin with the remains of 12-year Sneha Savindi, who was a victim of Easter Sunday bombing at St. Sebastian Church, Monday, April 22, 2019 in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Easter Sunday bombings of churches, luxury hotels and other sites was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
A relative holds an old portrait of 12-year Sneha Savindi, who was a victim of Easter Sunday bombing at St. Sebastian Church, after the coffin returned home, Monday, April 22, 2019 in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Easter Sunday bombings of churches, luxury hotels and other sites was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
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Sri Lankan police detained a Syrian among 40 people being questioned about the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels, government and military sources said on Tuesday, as the toll from the coordinated bomb attacks rose to 321.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which officials said were carried out by at least seven suicide bombers on three churches and four hotels. About 500 people were also wounded.

However, the focus of suspicion is falling on Islamist militants with links to foreign groups. U.S. intelligence sources said the attacks bore some of the hallmarks of the Islamic State extremist group.

Tuesday was declared a national day of mourning and the funerals of some of the victims were held as pressure mounted on the government over why effective action had not been taken in response to a warning this month about a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group.

Police said the number of people arrested since Sunday had risen to 40, most of them Sri Lankans. The investigation of those detainees had led to the Syrian, three government and military sources told Reuters.

"He was arrested after the interrogation of local suspects," one of the sources said.

The first six attacks - on three churches and three luxury hotels - came within 20 minutes on Sunday morning during Easter services and as hotels served breakfast.

Two more explosions - at a down-market hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo - came in the early afternoon.

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

FBI TO HELP

The bombs brought a shattering end to a relative calm that had existed in the Buddhist-majority Indian Ocean island since a bitter civil war fought by Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

Sri Lanka's 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Up to now, Christians had largely managed to keep out of the worst of the island's conflict and communal tensions.

The government imposed an emergency law at midnight on Monday, giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

An overnight curfew has also been imposed since Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday to pledge U.S. support in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The Washington Post quoted an unidentified law enforcement official as saying Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents were being sent to Sri Lanka to assist in the investigation.

The FBI has also offered laboratory expertise to test evidence and analysts were scouring databases for information that might shed light on the attacks, the Post said. Counter-terrorism officials from Britain were also due to arrive on Tuesday, a Western diplomat in Colombo said.

U.S. intelligence sources said the attacks carried some of the hallmarks of the Islamic State militant group, although they were cautious because it had not claimed responsibility.

Islamic State is usually quick to claim responsibility for, or links to, attacks against foreign targets or religious groups whether they were involved or not.

Footage on CNN showed what it said was one of the bombers wearing a heavy backpack. The man patted a child on the head before entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Dozens were killed there.

INTERNAL FEUD

The attacks have also underlined concern over fractures in Sri Lanka's government, and whether the discord prevented action that might have stopped them.

The government got a tip-off from India this month about a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group, the National Thawheed Jama'ut group.

It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken in response. A government minister said on Monday Wickremesinghe had not been informed about the warning and had been shut out of top security meetings because of a feud with President Maithripala Sirisena.

Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe last year only to be forced to reinstate him under pressure from the Supreme Court. Their relationship is reported to be fraught.

The U.S. State Department said in a travel advisory "terrorist groups" were plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka and targets could include tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship and airports.

China's embassy in Sri Lanka warned Chinese nationals against traveling to Sri Lanka in the near term because of "huge security risks."

China is a major investor in Sri Lanka. The embassy said one Chinese national was killed, five wounded and five were missing.

Among the victims were three of the four children of Anders Holch Povlsen, Denmark's richest man.

Eight Britons were also killed, including Anita Nicholson, her 14-year-old son and her 11-year-old daughter. Nicholson's husband survived the attack on the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

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