Zaharan’s group planned 20 suicide bombings

ISIS released this image of Sri Lanka bombing attackers and their leader Zahran Hashim

The National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) Leader Zaharan Hashim- led group had initially planned to carry out the bombings on Easter Sunday, with the involvement of 20 suicide bombers targeting crowded places including hospitals.

This was related, on 16 October, by an officer, attached to the Terrorism Investigations Division (TID), testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.

According to him, a member of the Zaharan- led group, who is in custody, had said, they were planning to carry out a series of attacks in three stages after the initial attack on 21 April, 2019.

He also said, during the investigations into the bombings on Easter Sunday, the TID were able to uncover information that by March 2019, there had been a conflict between Zaharan and Naufer Moulavi, who is believed to be the mentor of the NTJ and Zaharan, and also the mastermind of the Easter Sunday bombings.

The witness further said, Alawdeen Ahamed Muaad, who carried out the suicide bombing at St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade and Abdul Latheef Jameel Mohamed, the one who carried out the attack at the Tropical Inn in Dehiwala, had been trying to resolve the conflict between Zaharan and Naufer Moulavi.

Testifying further, the TID officer went on to say, “During the investigations it was also found that Muaad and Mohamed had arrived in a car close to the Mount Lavinia railway station and picked up another three members of the NTJ on a certain date. They had then gone to Zaharan’s safehouse in Panadura to discuss the plan to resolve the conflict between Zaharan and Noufer Maulavi,”

He further said, Zaharan and suicide bomber of the St.Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hastun, had also been in the safe house at the time of the arrival of Muaad and Mohamed.

Responding to a question by an Additional Solicitor General (ASG) as to what had been discussed on the day, the witness said, the NTJ had had a Shura Council with 13 members and one of them, Milhan, had presented 19 allegations against Zaharan.

“Milhan had suggested that Zaharan be removed and Noufer Moulavi be appointed as the NTJ leader. During the discussion they had also decided to share their properties. However, Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahmed, who carried out the suicide bombing at Shangri- la Hotel in Colombo had opposed Milhan’s suggestion. He had also been a member of the NTJ Shura council and had said, he did not give money to the NTJ, but to Zaharan. He had also suggested that Noufer Moulavi be given a house and a weapon,” the witness also said.

He also said, Zaharan had planned for a retaliation again the Christchurch attack in New Zealand and the attacks in Syria. Zaharan has had plans to attack places such as hotels, casinos and churches where foreigners visited in large numbers, he said.

A Senior State Counsel (SSC) questioned the witness as to what the time period was in which Zaharan had planned to carry out the attack. In reply, he said the explosives made by Zaharan and his brother Rilwan Hashim were to expire in 15 days. They were, therefore, of the opinion that the attack should be carried out within 15 days and the plans were made to carry out the attack and a decision was reached at the NTJ safe house in Negombo to attack on 21 April, the witness said.

At that time, Muaad, the suicide bomber of the St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade said that there was a church in Kochchikade near his house and that he would commit suicide there.

According to the investigations carried out by the TID, Zaharan, had once summoned members of his group to the Malwana area and obtained signatures. He has also asked them to choose whether to commit suicide or die in the war while sacrificing their lives for Jihad. Zaharan had not decided on the date of the attack until 24 March, 2019.

A member of the Commission then questioned the witness as to whether Zaharan, during the said discussion, made a statement, that he would launch an attack outside Colombo. In response, he said “Zaharan planned to visit Nuwara- Eliya to find the whereabouts of foreigners to launch an attack, but they left in fear,”

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Buddhika Samaraweera)