As Sri Lanka mourns the deaths of hundreds in Sunday’s coordinated bombings, it has now come to light that intelligence officials had issued warning of a possible terror attack just ten prior to the bombings.
The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.
But documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”.
“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” the alert said.
The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.
The attacks on Sunday recalled the worst days of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, which claimed up to 100,000 lives.
The island nation has a population of nearly 23 million, of which nearly three-quarters are ethnic Sinhalese. The Tamils, the second-largest ethnic group, make up more than 15 percent of the population and live mainly in the north and northeast of the country.
Muslims account for 10 percent of the population, and Christians about six percent.
The mistreatment of Tamils following independence from the British helped nurture the growth of armed separatists, leading to nearly three decades of armed conflict. The government defeated Tamil separatists in 2009.
After the civil war ended, a religious divide quickly took hold, with hardline Buddhist monks rallying Sri Lankans against Muslims.
In 2018, anti-Muslim violence flared across the hills of central Sri Lanka, fed by rumours spread over social media about attacks on Buddhists. A state of emergency was briefly declared in the wake of those attacks.