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NEGOMBO (Sri Lanka): Mourners attend a mass for victims of the bomb attacks on churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter. The militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility on Tuesday for the attacks that left 321 people dead. President Maithripala Sirisena has said he will sack the heads of security agencies for their failure to act on intelligence reports that a terror strike was imminent.—Reuters
NEGOMBO (Sri Lanka): Mourners attend a mass for victims of the bomb attacks on churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter. The militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility on Tuesday for the attacks that left 321 people dead. President Maithripala Sirisena has said he will sack the heads of security agencies for their failure to act on intelligence reports that a terror strike was imminent.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: The militant Islamic State (IS) group, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility on Tuesday for the Easter attacks on Sri Lankan churches and hotels that killed over 300 people.

In a statement released by its news agency, Amaq, the group claimed that Sunday’s attacks in Sri Lanka were carried out by “Islamic State fighters”.

The statement also said the attackers “targeted Christians and the nationals of a (79-state) coalition to fight the Islamic State”, which met in Washington in February this year. The group used the Arabic title of the alliance, Al-Tahalif al-Dauli (Global Coalition).

The statement did not explain if the attackers were IS members or Sri Lankans responding to its calls for Muslims to attack targets of the US-led coalition in their home countries.

IS has repeatedly called for assaults on churches, particularly since the March 15 attacks on two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people.

The New York Times, while commenting on the development, noted that “the claim suggests the recapture of territory once held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq does not mean the group is no longer a threat”.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also emphasised this point at a news briefing in Washington on Monday, stressing the need for continuing the fight against IS and other radical groups.

Asked if the attacks in Sri Lanka showed that IS was still a threat to reckon with, Mr Pompeo said: “Yes. Radical Islamist terror remains a threat [and]… we are continuing to do real work against these evil human beings that went into places of worship on Easter Sunday”.

He recalled that US forces had destroyed the group’s “caliphate” in Iraq and had substantially taken down the threat but the fight continues.

“The destruction of the caliphate was important, and it mattered, and the takedown of these threats from other geographies as well,” he said. “But sadly, this evil exists in the world, and the United States and all of its partners that are assisting us in defeating this terrorism around the world… have to remain active and vigilant.”

Mr Pompeo also referred to the Global Coalition, which was formed in September 2014 and is committed to degrading and ultimately defeating the terrorist group, which is also known as Daesh.

At their last meeting in Washington, all 79 member states recommitted themselves to tackling IS on all fronts, to dismantling its networks and countering its global ambitions.

Beyond the military campaign in Iraq and Syria, the coalition is also committed to: tackling IS’s financing and economic infrastructure; preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders; supporting stabilisation and the restoration of essential public services to areas liberated from IS; and countering the group’s propaganda.

Mr Pompeo also spoke to the Sri Lankan prime minister on Monday and offered to assist Colombo in catching those involved in the bombings.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2019