ISIS Claims Responsibility For Sri Lanka Blasts
Jihadist group Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 321 people in what officials believe was retaliation for assaults on mosques in New Zealand.
The claim, issued through the group's Amaq news agency, was made after Sri Lanka said two domestic Islamist groups with suspected links to foreign militants were believed to have been behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels.
About 500 people were also wounded in the bombings.
Sri Lankan intelligence officials had reportedly been warned hours earlier by India that attacks by Islamists were imminent. It was not clear what action, if any, was taken.
President Maithripala Sirisena said he would change the heads of the defence forces following their failure to act on the intelligence.
"I will completely restructure the police and security forces in the coming weeks. I expect to change the heads of defence establishments within the next 24 hours," Sirisena said in an address to the nation on Tuesday.
"The security officials who got the intelligence report from a foreign nation did not share it with me. I have decided to take stern action against these officials."
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told a news conference investigators were making progress in identifying the perpetrators.
"We will be following up on IS claims, we believe there may be some links," he said.
The government has said at least seven suicide bombers were involved.
In a statement, IS named what it said were the seven attackers who carried out the attacks. It gave no further evidence to support its claim of responsibility.
The hardline militant group later released a video on Amaq showing eight assailants, seven of whom were masked, pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Earlier, junior minister for defence Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament two Sri Lankan Islamist groups - the National Thawheed Jama'ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - were responsible for the blasts, which detonated during Easter services and as hotels served breakfast.
Pressure is likely to mount on the government over why effective action had not been taken in response to warnings from India about a possible attack on churches by the National Thawheed Jama'ut group.
Indian intelligence officers contacted their Sri Lankan counterparts two hours before the first attack to warn of a specific threat on churches, one Sri Lankan defence source and an Indian government source said.
Footage on CNN showed what it said was one of the bombers wearing a heavy backpack. The man patted a child on the head before entering the Gothic-style St Sebastian church in in the coastal city of Negombo, north of Colombo.
Wijewardene said investigators believed revenge for the March 15 killing of 50 people at two mosques during Friday prayers in the New Zealand city of Christchurch was the motive.
He did not elaborate on why authorities believed there was a link to the New Zealand bloodshed, unleashed by a lone gunman.
The first six bombs - on three churches and three luxury hotels - exploded within 20 minutes of each other. Two more explosions - at a downmarket hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo - took place in the early afternoon.
Wickremesinghe said the militants had tried to attack another hotel but had failed.
Sri Lankan government and military sources said a Syrian had been detained among 40 people being questioned over the bombs.
Security forces were on alert for more attack and the government imposed emergency rule giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects. An overnight curfew has also been in place since Sunday.
The FBI is assisting Sri Lankan authorities with their investigation.