Suicide bombers included Sri Lanka spice tycoon’s sons
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.
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.