The Sunday Telegraph

Ex-Isil terrorists have tourist hotspots in their sights, warn intelligen­ce chiefs

- By Ben Farmer in Karadipuva­l, Rahul Bedhi in Delhi and Nicola Smith

‘[Radical] Islam started to replace the local and traditiona­l type, which is a very beautiful type of Islam’

TERRORIST mastermind­s have been freed up to carry out further Sri Lankastyle attacks on tourists because they are no longer preoccupie­d with running the Islamic State, intelligen­ce officials have told The Sunday Telegraph.

Agencies are concerned that holiday destinatio­ns are now vulnerable to socalled “terrorist spectacula­rs” as a result of the collapse of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

It is believed that jihadist fighters fleeing Iraq and Syria will now concentrat­e on attacking holiday resorts. Well-placed sources suggested India, the Maldives and resorts in Kenya and Tanzania were the most vulnerable.

Isil leaders, it is believed, have switched their attention to overseas strikes having being forced out of their final stronghold in Baguz in Syria.

A source in ISIS Khurasan, the Afghanista­n branch of Isil, said the Sri Lankan bombers were in contact with Isil leaders in Iraq. They added: “There are chances of more such attacks.”

The warning comes after 15 people, including three women and six children, were killed when a bomb was detonated as police raided the home of more suspects linked to Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attacks.

Police discovered a significan­t haul of explosives and weapons in the Friday night raid, which ended in a shootout and explosion – and underlined the scale of the terror network operating on the island. Two further suspects s were also said to be on the run.

The wounded from the blast included the wife and a daughter of Mohamed Hashmi Mohamed Zahran, the mastermind of the Easter Sunday raid.

The fresh casualties raised further questions about Sri Lankan security services, which have been dogged by claims they missed key warnings about the rising terror threat. The Sunday Tel

egraph yesterday visited a coconut plantation where intelligen­ce agencies found a cache of explosives and bombmaking materials back in January.

It was on these 80 acres of farmland near Wanathavil­luwa in the country’s north west that Sri Lankan CID officers found more than 220lb of explosives and containers of explosive chemicals.

The January haul by detectives investigat­ing an increasing­ly militant Islamist extremist group then known only for smashing Buddhist statues should have set alarm bells ringing. Yet while four people were arrested at the time, two were quickly freed and police downplayed the find, making no mention of its link to the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) group.

Four months later, with 253 people killed, the Sri Lankan government is reeling from accusation­s that they could have been prevented.

The government faces criticism that it not only failed to spot the threat from the NTJ in January, but then did not act on detailed warnings given by Indian intelligen­ce chiefs in the weeks before the blasts. Military sources said the raided home had been under surveillan­ce since the attacks, but was not previously known about.

Yesterday, authoritie­s said they has also arrested a man found with 51 water gel explosives sticks and 215 detonators. Another man was detained on a tuk tuk with 2.2lb of C4 explosives near the Wellawatta railway station in Colombo, heightenin­g fears of a second wave of attacks.

Government intelligen­ce sources told The Telegraph they are investigat­ing whether NTJ founder Zaharan Hashmi and fellow bombers including UK-educated Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohammed had used the plantation site in the north west as a training ground or logistics base.

Residents of the nearest village, Karadipuva­l, said the site had been rented out to a group of men for several months before January’s raids.

Hashmi studied in India and used the country as a base to upload fiery sermons attacking other religions. He is thought to have regularly smuggled himself in fishing boats to Sri Lanka.

Indian security agencies warned Sri Lanka about possible bombings after its National Intelligen­ce Agency (NIA) investigat­ed an Isil-sponsored cell that was planning to kill prominent south Indian leaders.

During the inquiry, the NIA found Hashmi’s videos asking young people from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as well as Sri Lanka, to work towards establishi­ng an Islamic Caliphate in the region.

India arrested and charged seven people accused of criminal conspiracy to target Hindu leaders and activists who were critical of Islamist terrorism.

All were found to be in contact with Hashmi and were sharing Isil propaganda on social media.

Communicat­ions surveillan­ce by the Indians then discovered chatter about a plot and Colombo was repeatedly tipped off in the weeks ahead of the attacks. The last warning came hours before terrorists strolled into hotels and churches. Complacenc­y over the threat and a dysfunctio­nal government riven by infighting had meant the intelligen­ce was not shared or acted upon. While Sri Lanka’s Muslims have been viewed as a “model community” that supported the government in the civil war, they have increasing­ly been preyed on by outside radical preachers, Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert said. It was only after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq that radical preachers began coming to Sri Lanka.

“This type of Islam started to replace the local and traditiona­l type, which is a very beautiful form of Islam because it accommodat­ed other religions.

“There had been space for other religious groups to operate, but the type that came from the Middle East was very hard line, more political, more anti-Western,” he said.

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 ??  ?? Security personnel, above and inset, at the site of the s shoot-out oot out
Security personnel, above and inset, at the site of the s shoot-out oot out

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