Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lankan officials failed to heed warnings from intelligence agencies about the threat of an attack by a domestic radical Muslim group that officials blame for Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 200 people, the country's health minister said Monday. The coordinated bombings that ripped through churches and luxury hotels were carried out by seven suicide bombers from a militant group named National Thowfeek Jamaath, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said.
International intelligence agencies warned of the attacks several times starting April 4, Senaratne said. On April 9, the defense ministry wrote to the police chief with intelligence that included the group's name, he said.
Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers on April 11, according to French news agency AFP, warning that suicide bombers from a radical Muslim group were planning to attack "prominent churches."
It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken in response to the warnings. Authorities said little was known about the group except that its name had appeared in intelligence reports.
Because of political dysfunction within the government, Seranatne said, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet were kept in the dark about the intelligence until after the attacks.
President Maithrela Sirisena, who was out of the country at the time of the attacks, ousted Wickremesinghe in late October and dissolved the Cabinet. The Supreme Court eventually reversed his actions, but the prime minister has not been allowed into meetings of the Security Council since October.
All of the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens, but authorities suspect foreign links, Senaratne said.
Earlier, Ariyananda Welianga, a government forensic crime investigator, said an analysis of the attackers' body parts made clear that they were suicide bombers. He said most of the attacks were carried out by individual bombers, with two at Colombo's Shangri-La Hotel.
The bombings, Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war ended a decade ago on the island nation, killed at least 290 people with more than 500 wounded, Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said Monday.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan police investigating the bombings are examining reports that intelligence agencies had warnings of possible attacks, officials said Monday.
Two government ministers have alluded to intelligence failures. Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted, "Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored." He said his father had heard of the possibility of an attack as well and had warned him not to enter popular churches.
And Mano Ganeshan, the minister for national integration, said his ministry's security officers had been warned by their division about the possibility that two suicide bombers would target politicians.
The police's Criminal Investigation Department, which is handling the investigation into the blasts, will look into those reports, Gunasekara said.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, said the attacks could have been thwarted.
"We placed our hands on our heads when we came to know that these deaths could have been avoided. Why this was not prevented?" he said.
Earlier, Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena described the blasts as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, and police said 13 suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The Tamil Tigers, once a powerful rebel army known for its use of suicide bombers, was crushed by the government in 2009, and had little history of targeting Christians. While anti-Muslim bigotry has swept the island in recent years, fed by Buddhist nationalists, the island also has no history of violent Muslim militants. The country's small Christian community has seen only scattered incidents of harassment in recent years.
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