ISIS supporters have gleefully celebrated the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that left at least 207 dead and around 500 injured.
No terror group has officially claimed responsibility for the blasts at three churches, four hotels and a block of flats in the capital Colombo.
But ISIS supported have boasted that the series of terror attacks were revenge for the New Zealand mosque massacre and the US-backed military campaign to stamp them out in Syria.
Terror expert Rita Katz said ISIS media channels are “posting rampantly” about the explosions and praying “may Allah accept” the attackers.
The Director of the SITE Intelligence Group claimed this may clear the path for ISIS to claim responsibility.
“While such a claim may frame the op as revenge for New Zealand, this was likely planned long before,” she said.
Ms Katz pointed out that the attacks mirror the January 2019 bombings that targeted a Catholic Church in the Philippines, which ISIS formally claimed.
SURGE OF ISIS ACTIVITY IN SE ASIA
Fighters from Sri Lanka have been mentioned in ISIS ranks and the country would be “easily accessible” for its supporters in the region, Ms Katz said.
Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines and Indonesia, have “seen a surge of central-coordinated ISIS activity” in what it dubs its “East Asia Province.”
Nearly 500 were injured when suicide bomb blasts ripped through buildings in Colombo – where tourists were eating breakfast and Christian worshippers had gathered for morning mass.
Five Brits, including a mum and her two kids, are feared to be among at least 207 killed in the explosions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has confirmed ‘several’ Americans were also killed- along with victims from the Netherlands, Portugal and China.
Three churches and three hotels – the luxury Shangri-La Hotel, Cinnamon Grand and The Kingsbury Colombo – were targeted in the devastating attacks.
Colombo International Airport was later put on lockdown amid reports of a suspicious package – which was later destroyed by a bomb disposal squad.
All of the six explosions this morning – as Christians attended Easter mass – were carried out by suicide bombers, according to initial investigations.
Sri Lanka’s minister of defence Ruwan Wijewardene said in a press conference: “We believe that all the culprits who have been involved in this unfortunate terrorist incident will be taken into custody as soon as possible.
“They have been identified, and they will be taken into custody as soon as possible.”
He later confirmed thirteen people have been arrested over the string of deadly blasts – one of whom is said to have been stopped in a van transporting explosives to the city.
WARNING BEFORE DEADLY ATTACKS
It has emerged Sri Lanka’s police chief warned of suicide bombers planning to hit “prominent churches” 10 days before today’s attack.
Pujuth Jayasundara reportedly said: “A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo”.
The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the destruction of Buddhist statues.
There has been no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, during which bomb blasts in the capital were common.
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Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).
And there have been recent reports of clashes between Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim communities, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam.
It is the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the country’s bloody civil war ended a decade ago.
Pews knocked to the floor and the walls of a church damaged in an attack this morning[/caption]
Multiple buildings have been destroyed throughout the capital this morning – with hundreds of victims[/caption]
Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of St Anthony’s Shrine[/caption]