Sui­cide bombers in­cluded Sri Lanka spice ty­coon’s sons

The Tribune (SLO) - - News - BY JEF­FREY GET­TLE­MAN, DHARISHA BASTIANS AND KAI SCHULTZ

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA

He built his for­tune on black pep­per, white pep­per, nut­meg, cloves and vanilla. His family lived in a beau­ti­ful white villa and trav­eled in a chauf­feured BMW. He was feted by Sri Lanka’s for­mer pres­i­dent for “out­stand­ing ser­vice pro­vided to the na­tion.”

But on Wed­nes­day, of­fi­cials re­vealed that Mo­ham­mad Yusuf Ibrahim, one of Sri Lanka’s wealth­i­est spice traders, was in cus­tody in con­nec­tion with the sui­cide at­tacks on Easter Sun­day that killed more than 350 peo­ple.

An In­dian of­fi­cial said that two of Ibrahim’s sons, who have been iden­ti­fied in In­dian me­dia re­ports as In­shaf and Il­ham, were among the eight sui­cide bombers who struck at ho­tels and churches. The Is­lamic State has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Ibrahim was be­ing ex­ten­sively in­ter­ro­gated.

Dur­ing a raid Sun­day at his family’s villa near Colombo, Sri Lanka’s cap­i­tal, a fe­male sus­pect blew her­self up in front of two of her chil­dren, killing them all, along with sev­eral po­lice of­fi­cers who were clos­ing in, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said. The In­dian of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said the woman was most likely the wife of one of Ibrahim’s sons.

Sri Lankan of­fi­cials have been re­luc­tant to iden­tify the sui­cide bombers, say­ing that could ham­per their in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But at a news con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day, Ruwan Wi­je­w­ar­dene, Sri Lanka’s state min­is­ter of de­fense, said most of the bombers had been well ed­u­cated and had come from mid­dle-class or up­per-class fam­i­lies.

“Fi­nan­cially they are quite in­de­pen­dent and their fam­i­lies are sta­ble fi­nan­cially. So that is a wor­ry­ing fact,” he said. “Some of them have stud­ied in var­i­ous other coun­tries. They hold de­grees, LLMs. They are quite well-ed­u­cated peo­ple.”

Sri Lankan in­ves­ti­ga­tors are be­ing as­sisted by a team of FBI agents. The U.S. am­bas­sador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, said there were “on­go­ing ter­ror­ist plots” and Wi­je­w­ar­dene said “there could be still a few peo­ple out there.” He urged Sri Lankans to re­main vig­i­lant.

Of­fi­cials said they were try­ing to de­ter­mine the bombers’ links to the Is­lamic State. The ex­trem­ist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, re­leased a video show­ing Mo­hammed Za­ha­ran, who has been iden­ti­fied as one of the sui­cide bombers, leading masked, black­clad dis­ci­ples as they pledged al­le­giance to the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Still in re­cov­ery from a bit­ter civil war that ended a decade ago, Sri Lanka re­mains un­easy. In the last cou­ple of days, se­cu­rity near the bomb sites has tight­ened. Schools have been shut un­til Mon­day, and the postal de­part­ment is re­quir­ing that items sent by mail be wrapped in front of work­ers at post of­fices.

The flow of fu­ner­als con­tin­ued, and many mourn­ers on Wed­nes­day fo­cused their anger on the gov­ern­ment and the se­cu­rity forces. In some ar­eas, mobs of Christian men be­gan to at­tack Mus­lims, driv­ing hun­dreds from their homes.

Dur­ing a na­tional ad­dress on Tues­day, Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena ac­knowl­edged that “there was an in­tel­li­gence re­port about the at­tack” but said he was “not kept in­formed” about it.

Sarath Fon­seka, a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment who was an army chief in the last stage of Sri Lanka’s civil war, told Par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day that he had known about the memo, as had the na­tional in­tel­li­gence chief. He said it was “ob­vi­ous that the let­ter would have gone to the pres­i­dent.”

Sirisena, as pres­i­dent, also serves as min­is­ter of de­fense.

ERANGA JAYAWAR­DENA AP

A mass burial ground is made ready in Katuwapi­tiya vil­lage in Ne­gombo, Sri Lanka, for vic­tims of the Easter Sun­day bomb­ings, which killed more than 350 peo­ple.

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