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Sri Lanka attacks: Spice tycoon investigated for helping sons

CNN logo CNN 4/25/2019 By James Griffiths and Sandi Sidhu, CNN
a couple of people posing for the camera: Spice trader Mohamed Ibrahim, center, looks on as his son Imsath, right, shakes the hand of a government minister, in a 2016 photo. © Sujeewa Senasinghe/Sujeewa Senasinghe/Facebook Spice trader Mohamed Ibrahim, center, looks on as his son Imsath, right, shakes the hand of a government minister, in a 2016 photo.

Police are holding the father of two Sri Lanka suicide bombers on suspicion of aiding and abetting his sons, as an international investigation continues into the devastating terror attacks which left at least 359 people dead across the country.

Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim was arrested Sunday following attacks at hotels and churches. His adult sons, Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim, blew themselves up in Sunday's attacks.

On Thursday, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told CNN that their father, Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim, was is in custody on suspicion of aiding and abetting his sons. Gunasekera added that all other members of the Ibrahim family are believed to be in custody.

In an interview with CNN Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesingh said the suspected bombers were upper and middle class, well-educated and educated abroad, a profile he described as "surprising." He added that several of them were under surveillance ahead of the attacks, but that there had not been "sufficient" evidence to take them into custody.

Meanwhile, a huge international criminal investigation is ramping up in Sri Lanka, with six foreign police agencies and Interpol assisting local police, including Scotland Yard from the UK and the FBI from the US.

Gunasekera told CNN that officers from Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) have raided five safe houses across the country in connection with Sunday's attacks. Those locations have since been sealed for forensic investigation.

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More than 70 suspects have been taken into custody on a range of charges, including suspicion of terrorism, aiding and abetting terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism, Gunasekera said. Four high level suspects are being held by TID, and 33 are being held by CID, he added.

Of those arrested, four suspects are female, and all are Muslims. Gunasekera said most of them are family members and friends of the suspected suicide bombers. None of those arrested are foreigners.

Significant raids were carried out on Wednesday night, he added, in which 16 people were arrested at various locations, most near the capital Colombo. Three shotguns and two walkie-talkies were also seized.

As police continue to investigate how a previously little known terror group managed to pull off a huge and coordinated series of attacks, Gunasekera also revealed that police had confirmed that an explosion in the predominantly Muslim area of Kathankudi, in eastern Sri Lanka, in early April was a test run by the terrorists. In that explosion they blew up a motorcycle.

On Thursday, police said search operations were currently underway across Colombo, including the setting up of roadblocks. Police have asked the public not to panic, a police spokesman told CNN.

Sri Lanka remains on high alert and numerous controlled demolitions have been carried out of suspicious packages and vehicles in recent days. However, Gunasekera said that he did not believe the controlled demolitions on Thursday were of actual explosives. 

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