Middle class jihadist studied in UK, Australia
By Ed Riley
Sri Lanka deputy defence Minister says one suicide bomber studied in the UK
Security expert says they could have been radicalised at a British university
The number of confirmed dead in the Easter Sunday attacks has risen to 359
It is believed that there were nine suicide bombers, eight have been identified
One of the suicide bombers in the Easter Sunday terror attacks who studied in Britain has today been named by security sources.
Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed is believed to have studied in the southeast of England at some point between 2006 and 2007.
He later did a postgraduate course in Australia, before returning to settle in Sri Lanka.
Earlier the country’s Deputy Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene confirmed one of the bombers studied in the UK, but did not name him or which university or college he attended.
But he did say the attackers were all middle or upper class, well educated, from financially stable families, and that many of them had higher education.
The attacker’s identity was today reported by Sky News, citing security sources.
The revelation that one of the terrorists studied in Britain sparked fears that he could have been radicalised at a university here.
Security expert Professor Anthony Glees earlier suggested MI5 will already know the identity of the bomber with the British link.
Intelligence agencies in the UK will now be urgently trying to establish whether any connections he made here led him to extremism, and if any other associates pose a threat here.
Today the Metropolitan Police refused to comment on whether they were carrying out inquiries into the background of any suspected attackers with links to the UK.
A spokesman told the Evening Standard: ‘Whilst there is currently no intelligence to suggest there is any threat to the UK in relation to the attacks in Sri Lanka, we continually work closely with our security partners both here in the UK and internationally in order to keep the public safe.’
Eight British nationals died when suicide bombers targeted churches and hotels, and the number of confirmed dead had risen to 359.
The deputy defence minister today also revealed that there were nine suicide bombers – eight men pictured swearing allegiance to ISIS and one of their wives who blew herself up when police raided her home – and said eight have been identified.
They used two safehouses to mastermind the atrocity, he added.
Mr Wijewardene said: ‘We believe one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and then later on did his postgraduate in Australia, before coming back to settle in Sri Lanka.’
He spoke out as came as Alaina Teplitz, America’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, said America believes there are ‘ongoing terrorist plots’ in the country while warning of attacks on ‘large gatherings [and] public spaces’.
Mr Wickremesinghe has previously warned that suspects armed with explosives were still at large, while Mr Wijewardene told people to ‘remain vigilant’.
‘The investigation is still being conducted by our intelligence agencies, we have made a significant amount of arrests,’ he said.
‘We have gathered a considerable amount of information about who was involved in these atrocities and about extremist elements within this country.
‘We will make further arrests over the coming days [and] we can firmly say that within the next couple of days we will have the situation under control.’
Mr Wijewardene said that, so far, 60 people have been arrested, all of whom are Sri Lankan nationals, 39 of whom are still in custody being questioned.
He added that all suspects have some link to the attackers – who he refused to formally identify.
Meanwhile Lakshman Kiriella, leader of Sri Lanka’s parliament, accused security officials of deliberately withholding information about the attacks.
He said information on possible suicide attacks on churches, hotels and politicians were received from Indian intelligence on April 4 ahead of a Security Council meeting chaired Sirisena on April 7, but the information was not shared more widely.
He told ministers: ‘Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully.
‘Information was there, but the top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions. Somebody is controlling these top intelligence officials.
‘The Security Council is doing politics. We need to investigate into this.’
It comes after reports that Indian officials warned of a specific threat against churches in the country two hours before the first bomb blast.
Ms Teplitz said that American intelligence services were not aware of any threat beforehand, but that the FBI is now on the ground providing assistance.
Teplitz also said ‘clearly there was some failure in the system’ for Sri Lanka prior to Easter bombings.
The President on Wednesday asked for the resignation of the country’s defence secretary and chief of police over the blunders.
Alaina Teplitz, US ambassador to Sri Lanka, said America believes there are ongoing terrorist plots within the country
Security sources in India told CNN that they arrested a member of ISIS who claimed to have trained the plot mastermind, who he named as Zahran Hashim.
Mr Wijewardene said the death toll from the attacks rose to 359 overnight, 39 of whom were foreign nationals.
Of the dead foreigners, 17 have been identified and their remains handed over to their families.
Mr Wijewardene said the group used to be part of National Thowheed Jamath, who have previously been blamed for the atrocity, but splintered off as their views became more extreme.
Wijewardene described the bombers as middle to upper class men whose families were financially stable and said many of them held degrees.
The group were united in their belief that Islam should be the only religion in Sri Lanka, and that was what motivated their attack on Sunday.
He said that while the attack may have been in the making for some time, it is the belief of the security services that the Christchurch mosque attacks steered them towards attacking churches on Easter Sunday.
He also confirmed that the leader of the terror cell was among the dead, having blown himself up at the Shangri-La hotel. However, he refused to name the man.
The ringleader has previously been named by the country’s Prime Minister as Moulvi Zahran Hashim, and extremist preacher known to security services for speeches he gave online calling for all non-Muslims to be ‘eradicated’.
Mr Wijewardene also today confirmed that an explosion in Colombo earlier was a controlled blast on a motorbike near the Savoy hotel.
Mr Glees, the director the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University, suggested the terrorist is likely to have studied at a London based university, and possibly could have completed studies in engineering or IT.
Mr Glees told MailOnline: ‘I have no doubt whatsoever that the identity of this person will very soon uncovered. Everybody leaves a trail.
‘MI5 know who this person is. They will be checking out where they studied, who they came into contact with, and crucially, who else was in their network.
‘There are a stream of Islamist terrorists who come from higher education in the UK that are graduates, who are over represented in terrorist ranks.
‘This gives you an indication of the sort of people they are, they are not homeless refugees, or unemployed, they are well educated, highly motivated, ideological fanatics, that are highly dangerous.
‘This is a very significant development. It is very likely that this person would have been radicalised in the UK, or Australia.
‘He may have had no personal contact with the fighting in ISIS in Syria or Iraq.
‘Massive warning lights have to flash here. We can’t assume this person was a jihadist from the battlefields.’
Mr Glees suggested he would have become radicalised after coming into contact with a radical preacher ‘a band of brothers or sisters’ that would have taken the form of ‘campus associations.’
He added: ‘We are likely looking at someone in the London area. This is most likely to be a London student.
‘If you are in London you are close to a radical preacher. We are not talking about a quiet backwater university here.
‘In my experience, the study of IT and engineering, are areas which traditionally attract the interest of people that have gone on to be Islamist terrorists.
‘If you want to be a jihadist, what better education could you acquire than an IT or engineering education, to make bombs?’
Mr Glees also suggested the video showing one of the terrorist walking into a church, wearing a backpack, moments before he blew himself up, did not appear to be a hardened ISIS fighter, but a student.
He said: ‘The horrific video of the man with the backpack making his way into a church to carry out a suicide bombing was a diminutive, scrawny figure, he looks like a student.
‘He is a not an IS jihadist who fought in the battlefield. He looked introverted, obsessive. But he would have been radicalised with the ISIS message.’
It has been claimed that two sons of a wealthy spice trader carried out the suicide blasts.
The Muslim brothers, Ilham Ibrahim and Inshaf , blew themselves up as guests queued for breakfast at the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the capital.
They were in their late twenties and operated their own ‘family cell’, an investigation officer said yesterday as Sri Lankan police continue to probe the bombings.
The brothers had been involved in their father, Yoonus Ibrahim’s lucrative Colombo spice export business, investigators said.
A focus of the inquiry will be to find out whether there was a foreign influence in their radicalisation and how the children of such a wealthy family had become involved, an official source said.
The pair were key members of the Islamist National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) group, the official added.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the government has blamed the NTJ.
A minister said Tuesday the bombers may have struck in revenge for attacks on two New Zealand mosques last month which left 50 dead.
Investigators said it was not known whether the brothers were in contact with the other bombers.
The first wave of attacks struck during busy Easter services at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.
More bombs ripped through three luxury hotels in the capital city of Colombo: the Kingsbury, the Shangri La, and the Cinnamon Grand.
The group also planned another attack at a fourth hotel, but the suicide bomber either failed to detonate his device or decided against doing so, official sources said.