Typically, instead of blowing themselves up, leaders of Islamic terror organizations will find some vulnerable recruit who can be lured into the plot with promises of reverence and martyrdom. But in Sri Lanka, it appears that the leader of the domestic terror group that partnered with ISIS to carry out the deadly Easter Sunday bombings opted to don the suicide vest himself.
Confirming rumors that spread in the immediate aftermath of the attacks (and which had been denounced as ‘islamophobic’ by some members of the media for daring to presume that a jihadi preacher was involved in the attacks), the BBC reported Friday that a preacher named Zahran Hashim both planned and participated in Sunday’s attacks, detonating a suicide vest at the Shangri-La hotel In Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, according to President Maithripala Sirisena. Hashim was accompanied by a second bomber, who has been identified only as “Illham”.
Sirisena also revealed that authorities believe around 130 ISIS members are in the country, and police are scrambling to arrest 70 suspects who are still at large.
Hashim was a leader of National Tawheed Jamath, which was blamed for the attacks, along with ISIS. Hashim first gained notoriety in jihadi circles for participating the defacement of Buddhist statues in 2014. He soon gained a following on YouTube with videos calling for violence against non-Muslims (many of those videos have since been taken down).
His sister told BBC that she was ‘horrified’ at what her brother had done, and that she hadn’t spoken with him in more than two years.
“Even if he is my brother, I cannot accept this. I don’t care about him any more,” she said.
On Thursday, Sri Lankan officials revised the death toll from the bombings down by about 100 to 253, saying the difficulty in counting the number of dead was related to the fact that many of the victims had been blown to pieces.
All told, nine bombers are believed to have carried out the attacks, two of whom had been identified as the sons of a wealthy spice merchant. When police arrived at the family’s compound to detain their father for questioning, one of their wives detonated a suicide vest, killing herself, two of her children and several officers.
The attacks exposed a massive intelligence failure on the part of Sri Lankan authorities, and in the days since the bombing, the country’s defense minister and police chief have resigned.