COLOMBO – President Maithripala Sirisena said on Tuesday that he would move quickly to restructure Sri Lanka’s intelligence and security apparatus in response to a failure to act on warnings received ahead of the Easter Sunday attacks, which left more than 300 people dead.
“I will completely restructure the police and security forces in the coming weeks. I expect to change the heads of defense establishments within next 24 hours,” Sirisena said in a televised speech.
The alert reportedly came from Indian intelligence.
“People question why action had not been taken despite the availability of intelligence support from a friendly neighboring country,” the president said. “The security officials who got the intelligence report from a foreign nation did not share it with me. Appropriate actions would have been taken.”
“I have decided to take stern action against these officials,” he said.
The attacks began at 8:45 am Sunday with six coordinated explosions at three luxury hotels in Colombo and three churches across the country as they were holding Easter services.
Another blast in the afternoon left two dead in a small hotel near Dehiwala Zoo, around 10km (6mi) south of the capital.
The eighth explosion killed three police officers at a residential complex in Dematagoda, Colombo.
Most of the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers.
The death toll stands at 321, while 521 others were wounded.
Islamic State said Tuesday via its Amaq news outlet that it was responsible for the attack, but without offering any evidence. The terror group has made a series of false claims in recent years.
Later, however, Amaq disseminated a video purporting to show the Sri Lankan perpetrators swearing loyalty to IS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi.
The footage features eight people standing in front of a black IS banner. Seven of the figures are masked, while the eighth, whose face is visible, administers the oath in Arabic.
Sri Lanka’s defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said the attacks were believed to be a response to the recent mass shooting of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” he told a special sitting of parliament.
Sri Lanka’s government has blamed the blasts on a domestic Islamist group, National Thowheed Jamath, though it did not rule out links to foreign organizations.
NTJ has not carried out any large-scale attacks in the past but was accused last year of vandalizing Buddhist statues. The group has not said it carried out Sunday’s bombings.
Police said that they have detained 40 suspects in connection with the Easter massacre.
A state of emergency, including a dusk-to-dawn curfew, has been implemented to prevent further attacks.
At least 32 foreigners were among the fatalities and another 30 were hospitalized, according to Sri Lankan authorities.
The foreign nationals known to have died were from countries including Belgium, the United States, China, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The US Embassy in Colombo released a travel advisory warning that terror groups may be planning further attacks in the country.
Last Sunday was the deadliest day in Sri Lanka since the end of the 1983-2009 civil war between Tamil rebels and the Sinhalese-led government.
Tens of thousands of civilians died in the final phase of the conflict, according to data provided by the United Nations.
Sri Lanka, an island nation of 21 million people with a Sinhalese Buddhist majority, has a number of religious minorities, including Hindus, Muslims – about 10 percent of the population – and Christians, who represent roughly 7 percent.
In 2018, the government declared a state of emergency after violence erupted between Muslims and Buddhists leading to two deaths and dozens of arrests.