The death toll from the Easter suicide bombings in Sri Lanka rose to 359 and more suspects have been arrested, police said on Wednesday.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility and released images that purported to show the seven bombers who blew themselves up at three churches and three hotels on Sunday in the worst violence this South Asian island nation has seen since its civil war ended a decade ago.
The government has said the attacks were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacre last month but has said the seven bombers were all Sri Lankan. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said investigators were still working to determine the extent of the bombers’ foreign links.
Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara said on Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58. The prime minister had warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large.
The Islamic State group has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria and has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility around the world.
Sri Lankan authorities have blamed a local extremist group, 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.
The IS group’s Aamaq news agency released an image purported to show the leader of the attackers, standing amid seven others whose faces are covered. The group did not provide any other evidence for its claim, and the identities of those depicted in the image were not independently verified.
Meanwhile, in an address to Parliament, Ruwan Wijewardene, the state minister of defence, said “weakness” within Sri Lanka’s security apparatus led to the failure to prevent the nine bombings.
“By now it has been established that the intelligence units were aware of this attack and a group of responsible people were informed about the impending attack,” Wijewardene said. “However, this information has been circulated among only a few officials.”
In a live address to the nation late on Tuesday, Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena said he also was kept in the dark on the intelligence about the planned attacks and vowed to “take stern action” against the officials who failed to share the information. He also pledged “a complete restructuring” of the security forces.