ISIS claims Sri Lanka bombings, releases photo of attackers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (UPDATED) – The Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq) group on Tuesday, April 23, claimed a series of bombings that killed more than 320 people in Sri Lanka, and released a photo of the men it said were responsible.

The massive casualty toll would make the Easter attacks the deadliest overseas operation claimed by ISIS since the group proclaimed its worldwide caliphate in mid-2014.

"Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State group fighters," said a statement released by ISIS propaganda agency Amaq.

In a later statement, the group gave the noms de guerre of 7 people who it said were behind the "blessed attack" that targeted Christians during their "blasphemous holiday," referring to Easter.

It also released a photo of 8 men it said were behind the blasts.

Seven of them had their faces covered and 3 of them held knives.

The one man who displayed his bearded face also appeared to carry an assault rifle.

The authenticity of the image could not be independently verified and the reason for the discrepancy in the reported number of attackers was not immediately clear.

The bombings on Sunday, April 21, targeting churches and high-end hotels are among the deadliest such attacks worldwide since the 2001 strikes on the United States.

The Sri Lankan government on Tuesday blamed the Islamist National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) group for the blasts, saying they were carried out in retaliation for last month's attacks on two mosques in New Zealand.

The presidency said there was intelligence that "international terror groups" were backing Sri Lankan extremists.

Police sources told Agence France-Presse Tuesday that two Muslim brothers – sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader – were among the perpetrators of the attacks.

They blew themselves up as guests queued for breakfast at the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the capital, the source said.

The pair were key members of the NTJ, which the government has previously blamed for defacing Buddhist statues, according to an investigation officer.

The ISIS statement on Tuesday said 3 fighters it named as Abu Obeidah, Abu Baraa and Abu Moukhtar were behind the attacks on the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels.

Three other fighters it named as Abu Hamza, Abu Khalil and Abu Mohammad carried out attacks on 3 different churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa, it said.

The seventh fighter, Abu Abdallah, killed 3 police officers in an attack in a Colombo suburb, it said.

Tuesday's claim comes one month after a Kurdish-led Syrian force announced the fall of ISIS's self-declared "caliphate," after routing jihadists from their last holdout in east Syria with backing from a US-led coalition.

The jihadists retain a global network of recruits and have claimed attacks in Iraq, Syria and beyond.

On Sunday, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 10 people in the Afghan capital Kabul the previous day. –