The Easter Sunday attacks were carried out by a splinter group of the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), State Minister for Defense Ruwan Wijewardena said today.
Wijewardene told a press conference this morning that the members of the group had differences and the final attack was carried out by a group that left the main NTJ.
“There is a group that has split from the main body of NJT, and they have become quite extreme and what we have gathered is that they believe only Islam can be the religion practiced in this country. That is their extreme view and that is why they have carried out these atrocities,” Wijewardene told reporters.
He added that there was no evidence at present whether this group had any foreign connections. “We are currently investigating whether there was foreign funding or any assistance but nothing has been established as yet,” he said.
“We know IS has claimed responsibility, but we cannot say whether they had a direct link. It maybe their ideology that influenced [the attackers].”
The Islamic State (IS) yesterday claimed responsibility for the attack, but failed to provide any evidence for its involvement.
The Minister said that the attackers were well-educated and belonged to comparatively wealthy families.
He said they have found out that “most of them are well-educated, come from middle-class families and are financially quite stable. Some of them have studied overseas and have obtained degrees. One of them did his undergraduate studies in the UK and his postgraduate degree in Australia.
The death toll of the suicide attacks has now increased to 359. According to UNICEF, 45 of these were children, both local and foreign.
Senior Superintendent of Police Ruwan Gunesekara said that a total of 60 suspects have been arrested in connection with the bombings. Thirty two are being held by the CID and the rest in area police stations.
He added that eight out of the nine suicide bombers have been identified.
The three Churches and the three hotels were hit by one suicide cadre each. One blew himself up in Dehiwela when police approached him. In Dematagoda when police went to arrest suspects at a house, a man blew himself up killing a Sub-Inspector. When his colleagues, two Constables, went in after him a woman blew herself killing both officers.
At that house police arrested Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim, a businessman. Gunesekara confirmed that Ibrahim is still in custody. It is believed that two of his sons were suicide bombers. Ibrahim was a national list candidate from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna some years ago.