National Investigation Agency cleared to join probe into IS links

More than a month after suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the Union home ministry has given a go-ahead to National Investigation Agency (NIA) to join the probe into the attacks.

This follows Colombo’s assent to share the details of their investigations, officials aware of the development said. This will be the first official visit by Indian agencies to the island nation after India sounded advance warnings about the impending attacks.

A team of NIA sleuths headed by director general YC Modi, or an inspector general, will fly to Sri Lanka to probe links between Islamic State’s Kerala module and Lankan terrorist or their handlers, officials said.

“Investigations have thrown some common linkages between the handlers of Sri Lankan bombers and self-radicalised modules in south India,” a top home ministry official told ET. “We were waiting for the confirmation from Lankan agencies.”

The federal agency had last month arrested a suspect from Kerala, identified as Riyas A alias Riyas Aboobacker (29), who has allegedly admitted that he was following the Lankan bombers’ alleged ringleader Zahran Hashim and had plans to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala.

Aboobacker also told agencies that Hashim had radicalised several Indian youths in different parts of South India.

The Easter bombings, which killed more 250 people, were carried out by nine suicide bombers including Hashim. Global terrorist outfit Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.

ET had on April 22 first reported that an IS module was behind the bombings, which were supposedly in revenge for the March 15 shooting attack on two mosques in New Zealand.

Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) have identified all nine bombers. They belonged to two militants groups—National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ), led by cleric Zahran Hashim, and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI), a group active on the social media, officials said.

NIA insiders said India will share with Sri Lanka details of probe findings, including electronic evidence collected while analysing laptops and pen drives seized during the investigations into 2019 Kerala module and 2018 Coimbatore modules of Islamic State (IS).

During the examination of digital evidence, the agencies claimed to have retrieved evidences linked to targets in Sri Lanka. “Besides ISIS propaganda, we found speeches from Hashim and likely targets in Sri Lanka,” a home ministry official said. “The details of the investigations were shared with Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) that were further analysed and passed on to Sri Lanka.”

Indian agencies had issued alerts before the Easter attacks, warning specifically about the use of radicalised suicide bombers attacking churches and the Indian High Commission in Colombo. The first warning was issued two weeks before the April 21 attacks. The second alert was issued few days before the attack, while a third warning was issued hours before the attacks on April 21. (Economic Times)

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