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Bomber involved in Sri Lanka blasts visited India twice in 2017, shows Intel

The April 21 attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels killed more than 250 people, including 11 Indian nationals, and injured 500. Fifteen people, including three suicide bombers, died during a raid by Sri Lankan security forces on Friday night and nearly 100 people have been detained in the island nation.

india Updated: Apr 28, 2019 11:36 IST
Neeraj Chauhan and Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Neeraj Chauhan and Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sri Lanka,Easter bombings,IS
TOPSHOT - A Sri Lankan soldier stands guard on a street in Colombo on April 27, 2019, following a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.(AFP photo)

Indian investigators have found that Mohammad Mubarak Azaan, one of nine suicide attackers involved in the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, visited India twice in 2017, according to a top intelligence official who didn’t wish to be named.

Azaan is the second Sri Lankan attacker identified by security agencies who travelled to India. The other was Zahran Hashim, leader of the National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ) and the alleged head of the attackers.

It is suspected Azaan blew himself up at one of three churches targeted on April 21. Sri Lankan authorities are yet to disclose the names of all the nine bombers. Indian authorities declined to share details about the purpose of Azaan’s visits to India, the people he was in touch with and the places he travelled to during the two trips.

Security officials of both countries have said Hashim visited India in 2017 and remained in the country for a few months, during which his activities attracted the attention of security agencies.

The April 21 attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels killed more than 250 people, including 11 Indian nationals, and injured 500. Fifteen people, including three suicide bombers, died during a raid by Sri Lankan security forces on Friday night and nearly 100 people have been detained in the island nation.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings and released a video that showed Hashim and seven other men pledging allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. An Indian official, who didn’t want to be named, said Hashim was also associated with the Tamil Nadu Towheed Jamaat (TNTJ). The TNTJ has not been found to be involved in any terror activities.

Hashim, a second official said, broke away from TNTJ to form the NTJ and started preaching a violent form of Islam in Sri Lanka. Investigators suspect this is when he might have come in contact with IS leaders.

The second official said Sri Lanka has traced the movement of at least three senior IS members who entered the island from West Asian countries in 2018.

Indian investigators have found Hashim visited Malappuram in Kerala and Coimbatore, Tiruchirappalli, Tirunelveli, Vellore and Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu. He is also suspected to have been involved in a smuggling racket between Ramanathapuram on India’s eastern coast and Kalpitiya on the north-western coast of Sri Lanka. “The probe is at an initial stage but we have found the travel records of Azaan and Hashim which confirm they travelled from Sri Lanka to India,” said an officer. Agencies are in touch with Sri Lanka to get more details on Azaan.

As first reported by HT, Hashim was instrumental in radicalising seven alleged IS activists in a Coimbatore module, according to the findings of a probe by the NIA. The agency found several videos featuring Hashim in the electronic devices of the suspects in Coimbatore, who were arrested last September. An analysis of these video led investigators to believe Hashim was planning “something big” in Sri Lanka. On the basis of this information from NIA, Indian authorities alerted their Sri Lankan counterparts about possible attacks on April 4.

Officials said several Sri Lanka IS operatives were also in touch with Indian suspects in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

First Published: Apr 28, 2019 00:01 IST