The Easter Sunday terrorist who studied in Britain is believed to have botched his attempt to detonate his bomb at a five-star hotel in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.
Police are investigating whether Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed’s backpack failed to explode after he tried to leave it at the luxury Taj Samudra hotel, where he had checked in the day before.
He is thought to have blown himself up by accident at a much smaller guest house – the Tropical Inn in the suburb of Dehiwala – two hours after the co-ordinated blasts across Sri Lanka.
Mohamed had reportedly been trying to examine his bomb’s malfunctioning mechanism. The bomb then exploded, killing him and one other person.
Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed’s backpack failed to explode after he tried to leave it at the luxury Taj Samudra hotel, pictured
After repairing it he detonated his device at this tiny guesthouse, the New Tropical Inn, reducing the building to rubble but only killing himself and one other person
ISIS have released an image of the suspected suicide bombers as Sri Lanka said one of them studied in the UK. Pictured centre is ringleader Moulvi Zahran Hashim
He may have been forced to take the bag away from the busy Tak Samudra hotel when a staff member saw it and gave it back to him, potentially saving dozens lives in the process.
Yesterday it emerged that Mohamed – one of nine members of an ISIS death squad that killed 359 people and injured more than 500 on Easter Sunday – is believed to have studied in the southeast of England at some point between 2006 and 2007.
He later did a postgraduate course in Australia, before returning to settle in Sri Lanka.
Earlier the country’s Deputy Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene confirmed one of the bombers studied in the UK, but did not name him or which university or college he attended.
Minister raised the death toll from the attacks to 359 on Wednesday with 39 foreigners among the dead, 17 of whom have been identified (pictured, a mass burial in Negombo)
But he did say the attackers were all middle or upper class, well educated, from financially stable families, and that many of them had higher education.
The middle-class gang included wealthy brothers Ilham Ibrahim, 32, and Inshaf Ibrahim, 35, who caused carnage at the Shangri-La Hotel and the Cinnamon Grand as guests ate breakfast. Their multi-millionaire father once stood for parliament.
Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed’s identity was today reported by Sky News, citing security sources.
Mohamed apparently botched his own attempt to detonate a bomb at a five-star hotel in the capital Colombo and is thought to have blown himself up later at a smaller hotel when he examined his malfunctioning device.
Police are investigating whether his backpack failed to explode after he tried to leave it at the luxury Taj Samudra hotel, where he had checked in the day before. He may have been forced to take the bag away when a staff member saw it and gave it to him.
Two hours after the co-ordinated blasts across Sri Lanka, Mohamed went to the Tropical Inn, a small hotel in the suburb of Dehiwala, where he tried to examine his bomb’s mechanism, a source said. The bomb then exploded, killing him and one other person.
The revelation that one of the terrorists had studied in Britain sparked fears that he could have been radicalised at a university here.
British investigators are now scrambling to retrace his steps and officers from Scotland Yard, MI5 and MI6, the FBI and other Western intelligence agencies have all flown out to Sri Lanka to investigate fears of a resurgent global terror network.
Monster: Bomber brother Ilham Ibrahim
Security expert Professor Anthony Glees has described 2006-7 as the ‘heyday of Islamist activity on British campuses’ – particularly in London and the Southeast.
Professor Glees, who has written a book on the subject titled When Students Turn to Terror: Terrorist and Extremist Activity on British Campuses, says a high proportion of British Islamist terrorists both convicted or killed in the course of their attacks came from higher education backgrounds.
He said that the disproportionately high number of Islamists who went to university points to the fact that they are interested in ideas and studying, and have middle-class aspirations. This is far more true of Britain than other European countries.
For example, Mohammed Emwazi – or ‘Jihadhi John’ – a well-known ISIS executioner from London, studied at the University of Westminster in 2006.
Earlier this month an ISIS fighter told the BBC at least seven students and ex-students from University of Westminster joined the terror group.
Inshaf (pictured far right at a business awards), 38, lived with his wife and their four children – an eight-year-old daughter and three boys aged six, four and two – in a £1.5million six-bed mansion on one of the most exclusive streets in Colombo
Michael Adebolajo, who murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, studied sociology at the University of Greenwich – living in student accommodation in 2004 to 2005.
Professor Glees earlier suggested MI5 will already know the identity of the bomber with the British link.
Intelligence agencies in the UK will now be urgently trying to establish whether any connections he made here led him to extremism, and if any other associates pose a threat here.
Professor Glees said he would urge MI5 to look into higher education as a line of inquiry, particularly London and Southeast universities circa 2006.
Today the Metropolitan Police refused to comment on whether they were carrying out inquiries into the background of any suspected attackers with links to the UK.
A spokesman told the Evening Standard: ‘Whilst there is currently no intelligence to suggest there is any threat to the UK in relation to the attacks in Sri Lanka, we continually work closely with our security partners both here in the UK and internationally in order to keep the public safe.’
Eight British nationals died when suicide bombers targeted churches and hotels, and the number of confirmed dead had risen to 359.
Security remained on high alert Wednesday in the capital Colombo as the country’s deputy defence minister said it will take at least two days to bring the situation under control
Three churches, three luxury hotels and a guesthouse were bombed on Easter Sunday morning (pictured is St Sebastian’s church in Negombo, which was bombed on Sunday)
The deputy defence minister today also revealed that there were nine suicide bombers – eight men pictured swearing allegiance to ISIS and one of their wives who blew herself up when police raided her home – and said eight have been identified.
They used two safehouses to mastermind the atrocity, he added.
Mr Wijewardene said: ‘We believe one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and then later on did his postgraduate in Australia, before coming back to settle in Sri Lanka.’
He spoke out as came as Alaina Teplitz, America’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, said America believes there are ‘ongoing terrorist plots’ in the country while warning of attacks on ‘large gatherings [and] public spaces’.
Mr Wickremesinghe has previously warned that suspects armed with explosives were still at large, while Mr Wijewardene told people to ‘remain vigilant’.
A view of St. Sebastian’s Church, which was damaged in the blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, on Sunday morning
‘The investigation is still being conducted by our intelligence agencies, we have made a significant amount of arrests,’ he said.
‘We have gathered a considerable amount of information about who was involved in these atrocities and about extremist elements within this country.
‘We will make further arrests over the coming days [and] we can firmly say that within the next couple of days we will have the situation under control.’
Mr Wijewardene said that, so far, 60 people have been arrested, all of whom are Sri Lankan nationals, 39 of whom are still in custody being questioned.
He added that all suspects have some link to the attackers – who he refused to formally identify.
Meanwhile Lakshman Kiriella, leader of Sri Lanka’s parliament, accused security officials of deliberately withholding information about the attacks.
He said information on possible suicide attacks on churches, hotels and politicians were received from Indian intelligence on April 4 ahead of a Security Council meeting chaired Sirisena on April 7, but the information was not shared more widely.
He told ministers: ‘Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully.
‘Information was there, but the top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions. Somebody is controlling these top intelligence officials.
‘The Security Council is doing politics. We need to investigate into this.’
It comes after reports that Indian officials warned of a specific threat against churches in the country two hours before the first bomb blast.
Ms Teplitz said that American intelligence services were not aware of any threat beforehand, but that the FBI is now on the ground providing assistance.
Teplitz also said ‘clearly there was some failure in the system’ for Sri Lanka prior to Easter bombings.
The President on Wednesday asked for the resignation of the country’s defence secretary and chief of police over the blunders.
Alaina Teplitz, US ambassador to Sri Lanka, said America believes there are ongoing terrorist plots within the country
Security sources in India told CNN that they arrested a member of ISIS who claimed to have trained the plot mastermind, who he named as Zahran Hashim.
Mr Wijewardene said the death toll from the attacks rose to 359 overnight, 39 of whom were foreign nationals.
Of the dead foreigners, 17 have been identified and their remains handed over to their families.
Mr Wijewardene said the group used to be part of National Thowheed Jamath, who have previously been blamed for the atrocity, but splintered off as their views became more extreme.
Wijewardene described the bombers as middle to upper class men whose families were financially stable and said many of them held degrees.
The group were united in their belief that Islam should be the only religion in Sri Lanka, and that was what motivated their attack on Sunday.
He said that while the attack may have been in the making for some time, it is the belief of the security services that the Christchurch mosque attacks steered them towards attacking churches on Easter Sunday.
He also confirmed that the leader of the terror cell was among the dead, having blown himself up at the Shangri-La hotel. However, he refused to name the man.
The ringleader has previously been named by the country’s Prime Minister as Moulvi Zahran Hashim, and extremist preacher known to security services for speeches he gave online calling for all non-Muslims to be ‘eradicated’.
Mr Wijewardene also today confirmed that an explosion in Colombo earlier was a controlled blast on a motorbike near the Savoy hotel.
Wreckage: Sri Lankan security personnel inspect the damage at St Anthony’s Shrine following the Easter Sunday bombing
Professor Anthony Glees (pictured) the director the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University, said that intelligence chiefs in the UK will know who he is, and will be looking at who he associated with
Mr Glees, the director the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University, suggested the terrorist is likely to have studied at a London based university, and possibly could have completed studies in engineering or IT.
Mr Glees told MailOnline: ‘I have no doubt whatsoever that the identity of this person will very soon uncovered. Everybody leaves a trail.
‘MI5 know who this person is. They will be checking out where they studied, who they came into contact with, and crucially, who else was in their network.
‘There are a stream of Islamist terrorists who come from higher education in the UK that are graduates, who are over represented in terrorist ranks.
Sri Lanka’s Deputy Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene confirmed one of the bombers studied in the UK
‘This gives you an indication of the sort of people they are, they are not homeless refugees, or unemployed, they are well educated, highly motivated, ideological fanatics, that are highly dangerous.
‘This is a very significant development. It is very likely that this person would have been radicalised in the UK, or Australia.
‘He may have had no personal contact with the fighting in ISIS in Syria or Iraq.
‘Massive warning lights have to flash here. We can’t assume this person was a jihadist from the battlefields.’
Mr Glees suggested he would have become radicalised after coming into contact with a radical preacher ‘a band of brothers or sisters’ that would have taken the form of ‘campus associations.’
The Muslim brothers blew themselves up as guests queued for breakfast at the Shangri-La (pictured) and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the capital
He added: ‘We are likely looking at someone in the London area. This is most likely to be a London student.
‘If you are in London you are close to a radical preacher. We are not talking about a quiet backwater university here.
‘In my experience, the study of IT and engineering, are areas which traditionally attract the interest of people that have gone on to be Islamist terrorists.
‘If you want to be a jihadist, what better education could you acquire than an IT or engineering education, to make bombs?’
Mr Glees also suggested the video showing one of the terrorist walking into a church, wearing a backpack, moments before he blew himself up, did not appear to be a hardened ISIS fighter, but a student.
He said: ‘The horrific video of the man with the backpack making his way into a church to carry out a suicide bombing was a diminutive, scrawny figure, he looks like a student.
‘He is a not an IS jihadist who fought in the battlefield. He looked introverted, obsessive. But he would have been radicalised with the ISIS message.’
It has been claimed that two sons of a wealthy spice trader carried out the suicide blasts.
The Muslim brothers, Ilham Ibrahim and Inshaf , blew themselves up as guests queued for breakfast at the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the capital.
Relatives mourning beside the coffin of one of the suicide bomb victims at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo
They were in their late twenties and operated their own ‘family cell’, an investigation officer said yesterday as Sri Lankan police continue to probe the bombings.
The brothers had been involved in their father, Yoonus Ibrahim’s lucrative Colombo spice export business, investigators said.
A focus of the inquiry will be to find out whether there was a foreign influence in their radicalisation and how the children of such a wealthy family had become involved, an official source said.
The pair were key members of the Islamist National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) group, the official added.
Burials for the dead began today in Negombo, pictured. The attacks have sparked local and international outrage, and have been condemned by Sri Lankan Muslim groups
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the government has blamed the NTJ.
A minister said Tuesday the bombers may have struck in revenge for attacks on two New Zealand mosques last month which left 50 dead.
Investigators said it was not known whether the brothers were in contact with the other bombers.
The first wave of attacks struck during busy Easter services at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.
More bombs ripped through three luxury hotels in the capital city of Colombo: the Kingsbury, the Shangri La, and the Cinnamon Grand.
The group also planned another attack at a fourth hotel, but the suicide bomber either failed to detonate his device or decided against doing so, official sources said.
Sri Lanka bombings: From left to right Daniel and Amelie who died in the second blast, with father Matthew, older brother David and mother Angeline – at the Borobudur Indonesia Temple
Mr Nicholson (pictured with his family) has revealed his family were dining inside the Table One restaurant in the Shangri-La hotel, Colombo, when the bomb hit and ‘mercifully died instantly and with no pain or suffering’
Police are also currently on the hunt for a van and a lorry that are believed to be carrying explosives, reports News 1st. They are also on the look out for three motorbikes, a cab and a van.
At least 39 foreign nationals were killed in the attack and over 500 wounded.
Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency and launched a desperate hunt to head off more attacks.
Lorraine Campbell, 55, from Manchester, was named as the last of eight British victims caught up in the atrocities, her son said last night.
British lawyer Mr Nicholson with his wife Anita (left) and children Alex and Annabel (right), who were killed ‘instantly’ in the Sri Lanka terror attack on Easter Sunday
The mother-of-one, who had just arrived in Colombo on a business trip, had been staying at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel – one of three 5 star hotels targeted by suicide bombers.
Her devastated son Mark Campbell, 32, said: ‘I have been told it is her although she has got to be formally identified. I know it is my mum. She has been taken from us in a terrible way.’
It emerged yesterday that two fathers who saw their British children killed in the Sri Lankan terror attacks embraced as they searched for their families in the aftermath.
Matthew Linsey told yesterday how he met Ben Nicholson as they searched for their children in a hospital.
British IT director Lorraine Campbell, 55, from Manchester, was the eighth British victim killed in the atrocities to be named
Mr Linsey, 61, said: ‘We hugged and tried to support each other. We helped each other.’
In the blast at the Shangri-La Hotel in the capital Colombo, Mr Nicholson’s wife Anita, 42, his son Alex, 14 and daughter Annabel, 11, were all killed.
Mr Nicholson, 43, a lawyer from Essex who lives in Singapore, has told how his ‘perfect’ family ‘mercifully died instantly’ with ‘no pain’.
Investment manager Mr Linsey and his children Daniel, 19, and Amelie, 15, tried to flee, but the teenagers died in a second blast designed to target survivors and any rescuers rushing to their aid.
Perth-based UK couple Billy Harrop Dr Sally Bradley were killed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday
Billy Harrop, 56, (pictured) and his wife Sally both died during the bombings on Easter Sunday, but their son Gavin, survived the blasts, which targeted churches and hotels
In a TV interview yesterday, Mr Linsey described his last minutes with his children.
Speaking to CNN in his London garden as eldest son David, 21, held him, Mr Linsey said the bomb was like a ‘wave of pressure’, and told how his children were serving his breakfast when the bomb exploded.
He added: ‘My children were so nice – they actually went down to the buffet and filled up my plate.
‘Then I wanted more to drink. I was going to get it, my daughter said, ‘No, I’ll get it’ – and then the bomb went off and they both were running toward me, and I’m not sure whether that’s what killed them or not.
‘I knew there’d be another bomb because there always is.’
Amelie and Daniel were born in Britain but had both US and UK citizenship because their father was born in America.
Among the other Britons killed were GP Sally Bradley and her husband Bill Harrop, 56, a retired firefighter, who died when the Cinnamon Grand Hotel was bombed.
Dr Bradley, sister of peer and former Labour MP Keith Bradley, had been living with her husband in Australia since 2013 but they were due to return to Britain to retire in the Cotswolds.
Islamic State claims Sri Lanka suicide bombings
The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a devastating series of suicide attacks against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 320 people.
The claim, accompanied by a photo and video of the men the group said had unleashed the carnage, emerged more than two days after the near-simultaneous blasts ripped through three high-end hotels popular with foreigners and three churches packed with Christians celebrating Easter.
Sri Lanka’s government had said initial investigations suggested the attack had been carried out as ‘retaliation’ for shootings at two mosques in New Zealand last month that killed 50 people.
The Islamic State group published a picture of eight men it said were behind the attacks in Sri Lanka
Authorities in Colombo had already pointed the finger at a little-known local Islamic extremist group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), but said they were investigating whether they had international support.
‘Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State group fighters,’ IS propaganda agency Amaq said in a statement.
The group later gave the noms de guerre of seven people it said were behind the ‘blessed attack’ that targeted Christians during their ‘blasphemous holiday’.
Amaq also released a photo of eight men it said were behind the blasts. Seven of them had their faces covered and three of them held knives.
Maps of Sri Lanka and its capital Colombo, marking the locations of a series of suicide bombings on April 21, 2019
The authenticity of the image and video could not be independently verified, and the reason for the discrepancy in the reported number of attackers was not immediately clear.
Sri Lankan police sources told AFP that two Muslim brothers, sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader, blew themselves up at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels.
The Kingsbury hotel in the capital was the last one hit.
A fourth attack against a hotel on Sunday failed, sources also told AFP, though it was not immediately clear if the bomber’s explosives had malfunctioned or he had chosen not to detonate them.
He later blew himself up when police tracked him to a lodging in the capital.
Police have detained at least 40 people as they investigate the worst act of violence in the South Asian island nation since a civil war ended a decade ago.
Grief has overtaken many in Sri Lanka in the wake of the deadly attacks, which have killed more than 320 people
But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said police were hunting for more suspects at large, including some armed with explosives, and that further attacks were possible.
‘We are trying to apprehend them,’ he said.
The government has imposed a state of emergency, giving police and the military special powers, including the ability to arrest suspects without a court order.
The country observed a national day of mourning Tuesday, beginning with a three-minute silence, as the bereaved began to bury their dead.
Flags were lowered to half-mast on government buildings, and liquor shops were ordered closed for the day.
More than 1,000 people gathered at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital, which was among those devastated in the blasts, to pay tribute to the dead.
An elderly man wept uncontrollably by the coffin bearing the body of his wife, while relatives of other victims stood aghast and silent.
Coffins were carried into the church grounds one by one for services, and then to a newly-established cemetery on church land.
The first memorial services for the victims were being held as Sri Lanka observed a three-minute silence and flags were lowered to half-mast
‘It’s very hard to bear,’ said Father Suranga Warnakulasuriya, who had come from another parish to help conduct funerals.
The attacks were the worst ever against the country’s small Christian minority, who make up just seven percent of the 21 million population.
Officials are investigating why more precautions were not taken after an April 11 warning from Sri Lanka’s police that a ‘foreign intelligence agency’ had reported the NTJ was planning suicide attacks on churches.
Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the warning was not passed on to Wickremesinghe or other top ministers.
The attacks were also the worst ever against the country’s small Christian minority, who make up just seven percent of its population of 21 million
CNN reported that Indian intelligence services had passed on ‘unusually specific’ information in the weeks before the attacks, and that at least some of it came from an IS suspect in their custody.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also defence and law and order minister, said he will carry out a complete reorganisation of the security forces and the police in the wake of the attacks.
‘I hope to make major changes in the leadership of the security forces in the next 24 hours,’ Sirisena said in a nationwide address.
Work was continuing to identify foreign victims in the blasts.
Security remained tight at the churches targeted in Sri Lanka
A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, a spokesman for his company said.
Eight Britons, 10 Indians, four Americans and nationals from Turkey, Australia, Japan and Portugal, were also reported killed.
The United Nations said at least 45 children, Sri Lankans and foreigners, were among those who lost their lives.
Of the three churches targeted, two are in the Colombo region and one is in the eastern city of Batticaloa.
Ethnic and religious violence has plagued Sri Lanka for decades. A 37-year conflict with Tamil rebels was followed by a more recent upswing in clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslims.
The attacks have sparked local and international outrage, and have been condemned by Sri Lankan Muslim groups.