April 24, 2019
In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019, file photo, Sri Lankans carry the coffins carrying victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The U.S. ambassador says America had “no prior knowledge” of a threat in Sri Lanka before the Easter bombings that killed more than 350 people. (ERANGA JAYAWARDENA, FILE / AP PHOTO)
By JON GAMBRELL The Associated Press
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The U.S. had no prior knowledge of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that killed over 350 people, the American ambassador said Wednesday, 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 U.S. military personnel are in Sri Lanka assisting the probe, Ambassador Alaina Teplitz said.
While declining to say whether U.S. officials had intelligence on the local extremists and their leader who allegedly carried out the assault, 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 prior to the attack.
“I can tell you definitively we were not warned and we did not have any prior knowledge of this,” Teplitz told foreign journalists from her office at the U.S. 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 at hotels in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southern tip of India. The attacks killed at least 359 people and wounded some 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, alternately known as Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online.
On Tuesday, the Islamic State group asserted responsibility for the attack, sharing images of the leader and other men with their face 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 about whether American officials received warnings or knew about the group and its leader before the bombings, 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 U.S. believes “the terrorist plotting is ongoing” and said that’s why America continued to warn its citizens in Sri Lanka to be careful.