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US had no prior knowledge of Sri Lanka threat, says ambassador

More than 350 people were killed on Sunday when suicide bombs ripped through Christian worshippers and hotel guests.

Sri Lankan soldiers at St Anthony’s Shrine (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan soldiers at St Anthony’s Shrine (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The US had no prior knowledge of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 350 people, the American ambassador has said, despite local claims that foreign officials had been warned an attack was looming.

As the investigation into Sunday’s Islamic State-claimed attack continues, FBI agents and US military personnel are in Sri Lanka assisting the probe, ambassador Alaina Teplitz said.

While declining to say whether US officials had intelligence on the local extremists and their leader who allegedly carried out the assault, Ms Teplitz said America remained concerned over militants at large.

She also said that “clearly there was some failure in the system” that caused Sri Lankan officials to fail to share the warnings they received before the attack.

“I can tell you definitively we were not warned and we did not have any prior knowledge of this,” she told foreign journalists from her office at the US embassy in Colombo.

“We did not know because, believe me, if we had, we would have tried to do something about it.”

Sunday’s bombings ripped through Christian worshippers at church celebrating Easter and guests at hotels. The attacks killed at least 359 people and wounded 500 others, marking Sri Lanka’s worst violence since its 26-year civil war ended a decade ago.

Authorities have blamed a local Islamic extremist group called National Towheed Jamaar, whose leader, known as Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online.

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(PA Graphics)

On Tuesday, IS claimed the attack, sharing images of the leader and other men with their faces covered before an IS flag to bolster its claim. The extremist group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made unfounded claims previously.

Asked whether American officials received warnings or knew about the group and its leader before the bombings, Ms Teplitz declined to comment, saying she would not discuss intelligence matters.

“If you look at the scale of the attacks, the level of co-ordination, again, the sophistication of them, it’s not implausible to think there are foreign linkages,” she said.

She added that the US believes “the terrorist plotting is ongoing” and Washington continued to warn its citizens in Sri Lanka to be careful.

Before the bombings, Sri Lankan officials received intelligence reports and warnings that such an attack could be looming, but the information failed to stop the assault.

“The Sri Lankans themselves have said they received information, and they had their own lapses that resulted in a failure to either mitigate or warn. So that’s incredibly tragic.”

PA

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