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Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday bombers, with alleged Islamic State links, had visited Tamil Nadu in 2017

New Delhi: Ilzam Ahmed Ibrahim and Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim, the millionaire businessmen turned suicide-bombers who blew themselves up at luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, had visited Tamil Nadu in 2017, police sources have told Firstpost. The revelation comes amid growing concern that the Islamic State terror cell which carried out the Easter Sunday massacre could have had connections in southern India.

 Sri Lankas Easter Sunday bombers, with alleged Islamic State links, had visited Tamil Nadu in 2017

A view of St Sebastian's Church damaged in the blast. AP

The Tamil Nadu Police and intelligence services, government sources said, are now attempting to reconstruct the brothers’ movements during their visit -- ostensibly a business trip to meet with spice importers and contacts in the chemical industry.

Police have the sources said, questioned over 75 people in Tamil Nadu’s Rameshwaram coast, including fishing-boat operators and small-time smugglers, to see if the acetone and sulfuric acid used to manufacture the home-made explosives used in the Easter Sunday bombings might have been shipped from India.

Indian intelligence and police personnel are scheduled to visit Sri Lanka this week, to liaise with their counterparts in the still-unfolding investigation. The investigators, government sources said, were hoping to have access to detained suspects to examine what contact, if any, they had with figures in India.

In an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation last week, Sri Lanka’s army chief, General Mahesh Senanayake, had said members of the terror cell “have gone to India, they’ve gone to Kashmir, Bangalore; they’ve travelled to Kerala State.”

Tamil Nadu Police sources said, however, that there was so far no hard evidence to show that the men, or other members of the Islamic State cell in Sri Lanka, had travelled to Kashmir.

“It’s going to be very hard to piece together who the brothers met and where -- assuming any of them actually came to Kashmir,” one Srinagar-based police official said. “I don’t imagine it would be very hard for a couple of Sri Lankans to visit Kashmir, pretending to be from Kerala or Tamil Nadu, but if they did meet with known terrorism-related figures, we’d likely to have heard something about it.”

Five Kerala men had, in 2008, travelled to Kashmir’s Kupwara region to train with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Four were killed after the presence of the unusual-looking visitors were detected by police informers in the mountains. The fifth volunteer, Abdul Jabbar,  a 1973-born fifth-grade school dropout and roadside-restaurant cook, is currently serving a life term.

“Frankly,” an Indian intelligence official said, “we’re a little surprised General Senanayake chose to go public with details of the suspects’ travels before sharing whatever intelligence was available with us. This means that their contacts, if any, have had abundant time to hide, and even regroup.”

Indian inspiration

Sri Lanka-based sources said the bombers—in the main from affluent families—had trained locally, at a 10-acre farmhouse in the village of Kattankudy.

Tea trader’s son Abdul Latief Jameel Mohammed, 36, studied aerospace engineering in the United Kingdom and Australia—attracting the attention of intelligence services there for his pro-Islamic State views. Alawudeen Ahamed Muaath, who bombed St Anthony’s church, also hailed from an affluent business family.

Mohamad Assam Mohamad Mubarak who hit the Kingsbury hotel in Colombo, Achchi Muhammadu Hasthu who bombed St Sebastian's Church in Negumbo, and Nazar Mohammed Azard, made up the rest of the team.

The men, Sri Lanka investigators believe, were inspired among others by Tamil Nadu-based Islamist ideologue Kovai Ayub of Coimbatore, who leads the Jamiat-ul-Quran ul-Hadith, is among several right-wing proselytisers whose speeches are said to have influenced Sri Lanka’s jihad cell.

Indian authorities, however, have so far received no formal request for Ayub’s arrest from Sri Lanka, nor evidence he was involved in the actual bomb-plot.

P Jainulabideen, until last year the head of the Tamil Nadu Tauhid Jamaat, the parent organisation of a group once led by Easter Sunday bomb-cell head Zahran Hashim, is also thought to have been a source of inspiration.

Tamil Nadu link

Indian investigators, who provided precision intelligence on the Easter Sunday bombings days before the attack, first learned of the Sri Lanka’s jihad cell after the arrest of Shajan Velluva Kandy, a Tamil Nadu jeweller arrested in 2017, part of a group of Indian nationals attempting to cross into Islamic State-administered Syria with their families who were held by Turkish authorities.

Based on intelligence provided by Kandy, government sources said, the Tamil Nadu Police and NIA arrested seven members of a Coimbatore-based jihad cell, inspired by the Islamic State, which hoped to establish Islamic rule in the region.

Following the arrests, the Tamil Nadu Police and India’s intelligence services mounted surveillance on Hashim—leading to the warnings which were, controversially, ignored by Sri Lanka’s police services.

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Updated Date: May 07, 2019 19:26:13 IST