Among the attackers in this past week’s Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, were family members of a wealthy spice trader Mohammed Yusuf Ibrahim. The two brothers, Ilham Ibrahim and Inshaf, acted as suicide bombers this weekend, but they were reportedly operating a sleeper cell within their family.
The extent of how well organized the cell is or how many other people are involved is unclear, but there have been dozens of arrests in the wake of the bombing. Police have not disclosed the names of the suspects who were arrested and there has been no official statement from Mohammed Yusuf Ibrahim.
Just after the bombings, the terror group ISIS released photos of the bombers that they say were responsible for the blasts. However, the individuals in the photos are not clearly identified, so it is not clear which attackers are the two men associated with the wealthy family.
One brother gave a false identity to the staff when he checked into a local hotel to avoid detection, but the other brother gave his real name and address which led police officers to their home in Colombo.
Sadly, when police arrived at the family’s house to investigate what was happening, the wife of one of the brothers set off an explosive device, killing herself, three policemen, and three of her children. She was also pregnant.
According to one of the investigators who spoke to reporters, “It was a single terror cell operated by one family. They had the cash and the motivation. They operated the cell and it is believed they influenced their extended family.”
“What we have gathered so far is that they had indicated to their close family what they were going to do. It looks like they were inspired by foreign terrorist groups, but to what extent they had direct links is still unclear,” another police officer told reporters.
In addition to pledging their allegiance to ISIS, the family were also members of the local extremist group known as National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ).
“What we have seen from the CCTV footage is that all the suicide bombers were carrying very heavy backpacks. These appear to be crude devices made locally,” a source told the Daily Mail.
At least forty people were arrested by Sri Lankan authorities after the blast. With this many arrests, it is obvious that this was a very large and well funded operation.
Initially, there were six explosions at three hotels and three churches, then two later bombs were set off at nearby private residences. Sri Lankan government minister Harsha de Silva, said the last two blasts appeared to have been carried out by the suspects as they attempted to flee from the police.
After the bombings, the Sri Lankan government imposed a curfew and shut down social media and messaging services for the entire country.
The whereabouts of the NTJ leader, Zahran Hashmi, are currently unknown.
The local Muslim community has reportedly been complaining to authorities about Hashmi and his group for over two years.
“He was a threat to moderate Muslims in the east and we had made several complaints,” one Muslim leader told AFP.
The NTJ’s leadership had been condemned by several Sri Lankan Muslim organizations in 2016 for advocating extreme fundamentalist indoctrination of children, and for clashes with Buddhist monks.
In 2018, NTJ was linked to vandalism of Buddhist statues following anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka.
NTJ was first made known to the Sri Lankan police force when a police officer sent an announcement to the authorities warning about a possible attack on churches 10 days before the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings on the 21st of April, 2019.
The report said that “the NTJ is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo.”
Christians and Catholics are actually minority groups in Sri Lanka, with the vast majority of the country being Buddhist.