How U.S. Charged Easter Attacks Mastermind

By Palitha Warnakulasuriya | Published: 2:00 AM Apr 10 2021
Focus How U.S. Charged Easter Attacks Mastermind

By Palitha Warnakulasuriya 

The people here as well as those who were the aggrieved party following the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks had been wondering since the blasts took place as to who would be the mastermind or masterminds behinds this carnage. 

Even the report compiled by the PCol which probed the said carnage has only revealed only the top Government and security officials that had failed to prevent the terror attacks. The wife of Katuwapitiya Church Bomber, Achchi Mohammadu Mohammadu Hasthun, identified as Sara Jasmine, who is suspected to have known the details behind the blasts, had secretly fled to India. 

Some pointed out that Sara should be brought down to Colombo for interrogation. However, Minister Sarath Weerasekera told Parliament on 6 April that they were yet to ascertain whether Sara was still among the living or not. Two days before the remark made by the Minister, Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith had made certain comments during his Easter Sunday sermon at the Kochchikade Church pertaining to the carnage and it came in for criticism by Buddhist monks here.

The Cardinal alleged the Government was conducting its probe on the attacks in a lethargic manner, despite recommendations being put forth by the PCol. He in fact said in no uncertain terms that if the perpetrators behind the Easter Sunday attacks are not prosecuted before 21 April this year, on the second anniversary of the Bloody Sunday, he would take to the street with the masses. 

It was reported in this paper on 5 April and another news item that was featured stated that both the President and the PM had given a guarantee that the perpetrators behind the carnage would be prosecuted come what may. 

A few days prior a comment made by JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake on 26 March in Parliament also proved to be controversial. He mentioned that information had been received that a Mowlavi known as Mohammad Naufar had been the one who was mastermind behind the blasts. Then on 6 April the Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara holding a Media conference went public saying that they too had information to confirm that Naufar Mowlavi had been the mastermind behind the Easter attacks. This comment by the Minister concerned was given wide publicity by the local media. 

However, the U.S. Justice Department had released a Media communiqué on 8 January this year that Naufar Mowlavi and two other suspects had been the masterminds behind the Bloody Sunday attacks here. Though three months had lapsed after the issuance of that Media release, it had not received wide publicity in this country. 

U.S. Justice Department communiqué

Here, we reproduce the communiqué: 

“The Justice Department announced today (8 January) that three Sri Lankan citizens have been charged with terrorism offenses, including conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (ISIS).  The men were part of a group of ISIS supporters which called itself ’ISIS in Sri Lanka’.”  That group is responsible for the 2019 Easter attacks in the South Asian nation of Sri Lanka, which killed 268 people, including five U.S. citizens, and injured over 500 others, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed today.

The complaint outlines the defendants’ roles in the conspiracy and the events that led to near-simultaneous suicide bombings in the Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa on 21 April 2019.  One of the U.S. citizens killed was a Department of Commerce employee who had travelled to Sri Lanka on official business.

Two days after the attacks, ISIS claimed credit for the terrorist acts, attributing the murders to “Islamic State fighters.”  In late April 2019, the then leader of ISIS praised the attackers for what he called retaliation against “the West” for defeating ISIS the prior month in Baghuz, Syria.

“ISIS’s Easter attacks in Sri Lanka killed 268 people, including five Americans, many while they worshiped,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Today, we charge these defendants with bearing their share of the responsibility for these deaths.  According to these charges, the defendants were committed supporters of ISIS, recruited others to ISIS’s violent cause, purchased materials for and made IEDs, helped to prepare and trained others who participated in the attacks, and murdered in the name of this deadly foreign terrorist organisation.  They are in custody in Sri Lanka.  We fully support the Sri Lankan investigation and prosecution of these terrorists and will continue to work with the authorities there to pursue our shared goal of holding these defendants accountable for their crimes.  At the same time, these charges reflect that the U.S. justice system remains a powerful tool to bring to bear against those who harm our citizens abroad.  We will continue to pursue justice for the victims of these heinous attacks and for all American victims of terrorism.”

“This case clearly demonstrates that the United States will take decisive action to ensure terrorists face justice when they target Americans anywhere in the world,” said Nick Hanna, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.  “The United States remains confident in the Sri Lankan authorities’ ability to bring the perpetrators to justice – and this complaint makes clear that we stand ready with these charges in the event the defendants attempt to evade justice.”

“The domestic charges announced today for an attack on foreign soil represent the FBI’s commitment to deliver justice to travelling American victims and to protect U.S. interests here and abroad,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.  “For decades, and particularly since 9/11, the FBI has deployed agents to various parts of the world to establish an investigative foothold and to liaison with local counterparts with a shared goal of combating terror globally.  Our enduring hope is that criminal prosecution – whether domestic or foreign – will bring some peace to the hundreds of victims killed or injured in Sri Lanka as a result of this horrific attack.”

The criminal case filed on 11 Dec. 2020, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles is the result of a nearly two-year investigation by the FBI, which assisted Sri Lankan authorities in the wake of the suicide bombings that targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels frequented by Westerners.  The defendants named in the complaint, along with other suspects linked to the attacks, currently are detained in Sri Lanka, where a criminal investigation is ongoing.

According to the complaint, the three charged defendants, and others involved in the conspiracy – including eight terrorists who died in the suicide bombings – conspired to provide, provided, and attempted to provide material support, including services and personnel, to ISIS through various actions. That included: (1) Creating, maintaining, and serving as members of a group of ISIS supporters in Sri Lanka devoted to ISIS, its ideology, and to planning and encouraging violent attacks to advance ISIS’s goals. (2) Obtaining explosive materials and IED components. (3) Manufacturing and testing IEDs, including the types of IEDs ultimately used in the attacks. (4) Recruiting other ISIS members in Sri Lanka. (5) Using ISIS-created training materials to instruct and train the attackers and their co-conspirators in the use of firearms and explosives. (6) Procuring safe houses for the group to prepare for attacks in the name of ISIS, including the Easter Attacks, while avoiding law enforcement detection. (7) Following ISIS directives to use specific end-to-end encrypted messaging applications to conceal the criminal conspiracy. (8) Murdering two Sri Lankan police officers to obtain their firearms, and (9) Shooting a suspected Police informant.

The three defendants named in the criminal complaint, all of whom pledged allegiance to ISIS, are:

Mohamed Naufar, the “second emir” for the group of ISIS supporters that called itself “ISIS in Sri Lanka,” who allegedly led the group’s propaganda efforts, recruited others to join ISIS, and led a series of multi-day military-type trainings;

Mohamed Anwar Mohamed Riskan, who allegedly helped manufacture the IEDs used in the Easter Attacks; and Ahamed Milhan Hayathu Moahmed, who allegedly executed a Police officer in order to obtain the officer’s firearm, shot a suspected informant, and scouted a location for a separate terrorist attack.

All three defendants are charged with conspiring to provide, providing, and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.  Additionally, Naufar and Milhan are charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of military-type training from ISIS.

The FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles, including personnel assigned responsibilities for extraterritorial matters, is leading the investigation.  This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annamartine Salick, George E. Pence IV, and Christine M. Ro of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section, and Trial Attorney Alicia Cook of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance.

Who is Naufar Mowlavi?

Mohammad Ibrahim Mohammad Naufar, who was born on 30 November 1978 to Mohammad Mustapha Mohammad Ibrahim, had received his initial education at a school in Kaththankudy. 

He had then received a degree in the Arabic Language from the South Eastern University and he had been a language translator by profession. 

He had worked as a Mawlavi as well. He then had involved in extremist activities while being away in Qatar. Naufar had then returned home nine years later, before commencing the Dharul Adar Ath Thabaviya Movement with Zaharan Hashim. He had then gone back to Qatar in 2008. 

His spouse is Yasin Siththi Hajira. He had in fact been involved full time with Zaharan since 2016. Zahran had then got married to the daughter of the brother of Naufar’s wife. Their motive had been to create an Islamic State here in conjunction or with the blessings of the ISIS.

By Palitha Warnakulasuriya | Published: 2:00 AM Apr 10 2021

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