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Who are National Thowheed Jamath?

BBC News logo BBC News 4/22/2019
a person standing in a room: Officials inspect the damage caused by a bomb at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo © Reuters Officials inspect the damage caused by a bomb at St Sebastian's Church in Negombo

A previously unknown group called the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) is being accused of having carried out the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka - even though no group has admitted the carnage.

So who are they?

Origins

Until Monday, when the Sri Lankan government spokesman mentioned their name, very few people had heard of the NTJ.

The group is believed to have splintered off from another hardline Islamist group in the country, the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ).

While still relatively unknown, the SLTJ is a bit more established. Its secretary, Abdul Razik, was arrested in 2016 for inciting hatred against Buddhists. He later issued an apology.

More on the Sri Lanka attacks:

Some reports have also linked the NTJ to a spate of vandalism last year that targeted Buddhist temples in Mawanella, central Sri Lanka.

But it is an extremist fringe group within a small religious minority - only 9.7% of Sri Lanka's population of about 21 million are Muslim.

Links to the attacks

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters in Colombo on Monday that there had been "several warnings from foreign intelligence agencies about the impending attacks".

A document seen by news agencies, reportedly sent by Sri Lanka's police chief earlier this month, explicitly named the NTJ and warned that they were planning to attack churches and the Indian High Commission.

Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka director for the International Crisis Group, told BBC 5Live that NTJ "appears to be the same group" as those behind the Mawanella vandalism, adding: "The police eventually arrested a group of young men who were said to have been the students of a preacher who's named in the intelligence document that came out yesterday [Sunday]."

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne (file photo) named the NTJ as suspects © Getty Images Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne (file photo) named the NTJ as suspects

But officials suspect that they weren't acting alone.

"We don't see that only a small organisation in this country can do all that," Mr Senaratne said. "We are now investigating the international support for them, and their other links, how they produced the suicide bombers here, and how they produced bombs like this."

And while not naming the NTJ directly, the Sri Lankan president's office echoed this belief that whichever group was behind the attacks had help from abroad.

"The intelligence sections have reported that there are international terror groups which are behind the local terrorists," a statement from President Maithripala Sirisena said. "International assistance will be sought to combat them."

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