Explosions in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed over 300 people and injured more than 500 on Easter Sunday. This is the latest development: ● Death support was revised to 311 Tuesday morning, up from 290 according to Prime Minister of Defense. ● The government says the attack was carried out by National Thoughheed Jamaath, a local Islamist militant group with suspected international aid. ● The Sri Lankan President has asked for international help to track the group's foreign relations.  ● Anger brews among the inhabitants, as the authorities seemed to have prior knowledge. A man holds a cross during a mass grave of victims, two days after a string of suicide bombings on churches and luxury hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, at a cemetery near St. Sebastian Church in Negombo on Tuesday. (Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters) COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The death penalty in a series of Easter bombings in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka rose to 311, according to the prime minister for defense, when the country marked a national day of grief Tuesday. Serious questions have now arisen as to why the government and security forces could not follow the coordinated bombings, although they probably had prior knowledge, including by the group – National Thoughheed Jamaath – which has been identified as responsible. The United States promised support for the investigation and sent FBI agents to help. At least four US citizens are among the dead, and "several" Americans were severely injured,…
Explosions in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed over 300 people and injured more than 500 on Easter Sunday. This is the latest development:
● Death support was revised to 311 Tuesday morning, up from 290 according to Prime Minister of Defense.
● The government says the attack was carried out by National Thoughheed Jamaath, a local Islamist militant group with suspected international aid.
● The Sri Lankan President has asked for international help to track the group’s foreign relations.  ● Anger brews among the inhabitants, as the authorities seemed to have prior knowledge.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The death penalty in a series of Easter bombings in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka rose to 311, according to the prime minister for defense, when the country marked a national day of grief Tuesday.
Serious questions have now arisen as to why the government and security forces could not follow the coordinated bombings, although they probably had prior knowledge, including by the group – National Thoughheed Jamaath – which has been identified as responsible.
The United States promised support for the investigation and sent FBI agents to help. At least four US citizens are among the dead, and “several” Americans were severely injured, the State Department said Monday. Sri Lanka’s Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said that 39 foreigners were killed and 28 wounded.
Investigators will investigate how the local Islamist group, whose name is grossly translated into the National Monotheism Organization, could carry out such a planned, coordinated, and lethal attack, and whether they had help overseas.
Health minister Rajitha Senaratne said the group used suicide bombings at three churches and three hotels. He added that a foreign network was probably involved.
“We do not believe these attacks were made by a group of people limited to this country,” Senaratne said. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”
He urged police inspector general secretary Pujith Jayasundara to resign because the security agencies had received a report warning of attacks by this group on churches and hotel weeks earlier.
As news of the supposed pre-announcement of the attacks spread, the mourners responded with increasing anger mixed with grief at funerals and other gatherings in Christian communities.
“This is the government’s fault. They are incompetent. They knew and they did nothing, said a man who cried Monday outside a funeral in Negombo. He did not give his name but turned away and joined others in a house where the woman’s coffin was lying on a cloth-covered table surrounded by silent mourners.
President Maithripala Sirisena said he would seek “international aid” with the investigation. Intelligence agencies have reported that “international organizations” were behind these “acts of local terrorists,” his office said. in a statement.
The statement also said that the government would implement anti-terrorism measures that give the police additional powers, which are effective at midnight. Such powers were widely used during Sri Lankan civil war, but have not been used since 2011. Emergency powers allow police to intervene and ask suspects without court order
FBI agents are sent to help Sri Lanka’s police in their investigation, according to a US law enforcement officer. The FBI has also offered laboratory expertise to test some of the bomb evidence, and analysts have cut FBI databases for all pieces of information that could shed additional light on the charts, officials said.
Two officials gave the Washington Post with a 3-sided intelligence report referred to by the Minister of Health, where a senior police officer warned of potential suicide attacks by the same Islamist extremist group.
The authenticity of these documents was verified by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ruwan Wijewardene. The report also identified several members with names, including the group’s alleged leader.
Mujibur Rahman, a member of the Sri Lankan Parliament informed of the report, said it was based on information from Indian investigative agencies.
Officials said 26 suspects have been detained on the issue, news agencies reported.
The authorities said that the main attacks – at churches and hotels – were carried out by seven suicide bombers.
A Sri Lankan security officer recognized Thowheed Jamaath as a shell for the Islamic state and said it was active in Kattankudy, an area in the eastern part of the country and home to one of its largest Muslim populations.
Officially said there could be additional explosives or potential suicide bombs.
“Right now, they are looking everywhere for possible bombs and people involved,” the official said, in view of anonymity, to discuss the investigation.
In Washington, President Trump called the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday morning to express compassion and received an update of the investigation. Trump pledged US support to bring the perpetrators to justice, and leaders confirmed their commitment to the fight against global terrorism, a pool report said.
Formerly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused “Islamic radical terror” of the attacks. He also spoke Monday morning with Wickremesinghe and promised “all possible help” to Sri Lanka.
“This is also the US battle,” Pompeo said at a press conference. Although the Islamic state’s “caliphate” has been destroyed with the collapse of the group’s last stronghold in Syria, “radical Islamist terror is still a threat,” he said. “We must be active and vigilant, and it will require attention.”
Thoughheed Jamaath “was not on any radar,” said Michael Leiter, who served as head of the National Counterterrorism Center in George W. Bush and Obama’s administrations. He said the attack probably had an international nexus, considering that not only Sri Lankan targeted.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there were at least a few people traveling to Syria,” Leiter said. “There was never a large Sri Lankan population there, but it only takes one or two to return and inspire a local group to adapt ideologically and tactically to a global violent jihadist organization.”
But the absence of a clear demand for responsibility from an established international terrorist organization suggests that it may be too early to say whether the Sri Lankan bombers had aid, said Nicholas Rasmussen, a former senior director of the fight against terrorism at the National Security Council who also the National Terrorism Center ran in Obama and Trump administrations.
“But it wouldn’t take much – a link between Sri Lanka’s foreign warriors in Syria with like-minded people at home – to create such a connection,” Rasmussen said. He added that the high death rate and simultaneous attacks suggested a degree of sophistication in bombing and organization, which is “characteristic of an established group”.
SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremist activities, said Monday that an unidentified Islamic State supporter distributed images of three alleged “commands” involved in the Sri Lanka attacks. The images were published in pro-Islamic state chat rooms, and the men, who showed weapons in front of Islamic state banners, are described as “among the commanders in Sri Lanka,” SITE said.
On Sunday, the group reported that Islamic state supporters portrayed the attacks as revenge for strikes on mosques and Muslims.
The highly coordinated attacks left the desert nation, a crushing blow after nearly a decade of peace since the end of the civil war.
At that time, tourism in Sri Lanka had been steadily growing, the country was transformed by the obvious end to instability, bloodshed, and frequent suicide bombings during the 26-year war.
A three minute silence was observed nationwide at 8:30 am Tuesday.
The tensions remain high above the island nation. The US Embassy in Colombo said in a tweet that a bomb collection unit had verified a suspected package near the embassy building was not an explosive device.
The event was the third such bombing in the last 24 hours.
Mahtani was reported from Hong Kong. Rukshana Rizwie and Devana Senanayake of Colombo, Niha Masih of New Delhi, Chico Harlan of Rome and Shane Harris, Souad Mekhennet, Devlin Barrett and Julie Tate of Washington contributed to this report.