ISIS Claims Responsibility For Sri Lanka Church Terror Attacks

ISIS is claiming responsibility for Sunday's attacks in Sri Lanka, a strong sign that the claims by the Trump Administration that it had largely defeated the group were not true.

The Islamic State. also known as ISIS and ISIL, which the United States and other western nations have claimed several times over the course of the last year or so has been defeated on the ground in Syria, is claiming responsibility for the attacks of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people:

More than two days after the Sri Lanka bombings, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks.

The group’s news agency, Amaq, released a bulletin on Tuesday stating that the attacks were carried out by “Islamic State fighters.” The statement, which was disseminated on the group’s chat rooms on the app Telegram, also said that the bombings targeted Christians as well as citizens of countries belonging to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

In a later news release, the Islamic State identified the seven suicide bombers by their noms de guerre, and specified which of them had gone to each of the churches that was bombed during what it called “the infidel holiday.”

Three of the noms de guerre match the names issued by an Islamic State-linked chat room on the app Telegram a day after the attack. On Monday, the “Greenb1rds” chat room posted three images of masked men it said were the “commandos” involved in the bombings, posing before the Islamic State flag and pointing their index fingers skyward, a gesture used by Islamic State adherents to indicate belief in a single God.

The group has repeatedly called for assaults on churches, particularly since the New Zealand mosque attacks.

The Islamic State claim suggests that the recapture of territory it once held in Syria and Iraq does not mean the group is no longer a threat.

“We can’t tell you immediately, definitively to whom they had links,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at a news conference. But from the start, he said, “there was suspicion that there were links with ISIS.”

Now, he added, “some of the evidence points to that.”

“There seems to have been foreign involvement” in the bombings, Mr. Wickremesinghe said, and investigators believe that some of the attackers “have traveled abroad and have come back.”

He added that some of the attackers, including one or two of the suicide bombers, had been in Syria. But he stopped short of saying that they had fought for the Islamic State, adding that their time in Syria was not necessarily the source of the bombing plot.

“You can meet people in any part,” he said. “You can meet them in London. You needn’t go to the region.”

The prime minister said several countries were aiding in the investigation, and the United States ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina B. Teplitz, said that the F.B.I. had joined it.


Sri Lankan officials raised the possibility on Tuesday that the bombers were hoping to avenge the killings of 50 Muslims in a shooting spree at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” a junior defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, told Parliament.

Later Tuesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe put it more cautiously, saying that investigators were looking into a possible connection.

“It’s possible it could have been because of the Christchurch attacks,” he said. “We cannot say here.”

Neither official said what had led investigators to think that the bombings might have been retribution for the New Zealand massacre. And it was not clear how that theory aligned with warnings months earlier that Islamist radicals posed a serious threat and were stockpiling explosives and other weapons.

Officials said on Monday that a little-known Sri Lankan extremist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, had carried out the bombings.

On Tuesday, Mr. Wijewardene said that two local Islamist radical groups were involved: National Thowheeth Jama’ath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. Again, Mr. Wickremesinghe was less definite, saying, “some investigations are underway on this other group.”

Government officials say the people who carried out the attacks were all Sri Lankan.

Assuming that these reports are true, and the Sri Lankan government, which reportedly had some form of advance warning about the attacks before they happened, seems to be confirming that is, then it is significant for a number of reasons.

First of all, it makes the claims of the Trump Administration and other nations that ISIS had been largely defeated with the fall of its capital in Syria appear to be at best an exaggeration and at the worst a bald-faced lie. On some level, this was already apparent given the fact that ISIS fighters remain active on the ground in Syria and continue to control significant territory in that country and the fact that they continue to pose a challenge for American, Iraqi, and Kurdish forces across the border in Iraq. Given this, the idea that ISIS has been defeated is one that should be dismissed from serious discussion. While they have undoubtedly suffered significant losses as a result of allied military action in Syria they are far from being defeated as either a fighting force or a force capable of reaching out and either inspiring or carrying out mass terror attacks like the one we saw on Sunday.

Second, these reports indicate that even without the territory it has lost in Syria and Iraq. ISIS remains a potent threat both to the extent that it can train potential terrorists to strike in their home countries and to the extent that it can still release propaganda aimed at potential jihadists throughout the world. Their ability to do this was already apparent long before they suffered setbacks on the ground, of course, but attacks like the one on Sunday seem to make clear that they still retain the ability to spread this propaganda notwithstanding those losses. One of the reasons for that, of course, is the fact that even before their military setbacks ISIS was making moves to expand its influence in other parts of the world such as North Africa, where Libya has become something of a breeding ground for all kinds of terrorist groups, and in places like Afghanistan. There have also been reports of ISIS agents making contact with Jihadist groups in nations such as Indonesia which, for the time being. has managed to avoid being sucked into the fray. This attack suggests that even the tiny and relatively isolated nation of Sri Lanka is not beyond their ability to infiltrate.

FILED UNDER: Asia, National Security, Terrorism, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. CSK says:

    Trump also said that the wall is being built (it isn’t), that we should all sleep well because the nuclear threat from North Korea is over (it isn’t), that the Mueller Report exonerated him (it didn’t), and delivered himself of a host of other fantasies he’s foisted off on the public that have not a grain of truth to them.

    I have read elsewhere that the Sri Lanka attack was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque shooting.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Imagine being a human being who upon hearing that defenseless people, women and children, old people, were blown apart and thinking, “Cool! That was us! Yay us!”

    Two things make that possible: psychopathy and ideology/religion. When your ideology or religion lead you to psychopathic behavior it may just be time to reconsider your beliefs.

  3. Kathy says:

    War and geopolitics are not a game of capture the flag. The fighting doesn’t end because you took territory, or killed a leader. Asymmetric war against non-state actors is worse. But in both cases, eventually you have to sit down and talk and hammer out terms of surrender (even in cases of unconditional surrender).

  4. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: I don’t think the ISIS people are really interested in talking things out.

    You can beat back terrorists to the point where they don’t hold territory (which was a kind of odd thing for them to do) or disrupt their communication, and you can ensure people have more options than to give their life for a cause, but at that point it becomes a perpetual police action.

    Grievances exist. The ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1998 was the result of Serbian grievances going back to a battle in 1389. I pick this as my go-to example because the Serbs are Christians — it isn’t some weird alien Islamic thing.

    Modern technology has made it easier for the unstable aggrieved people to find each other, radicalize and vote for Donald Trump, or go attack a church, mosque or synagogue.

    And modern technology has made those attacks much more deadly and coordinated.

    We’ve always had a few yahoos who get drunk at their local mead hall, start talking shit and then beat up the foreigner. That’s background noise in humanity’s experience going back thousands of years. Ugly background noise.

    We’ve gotten better at that. We’ve made it easier for the yahoos to be further apart and find each other.

  5. Hal_10000 says:

    The hard-right crazies and the Islamist crazies have found a common enemy: those who refuse to be crazy.

  6. Kathy says:


    I don’t think the ISIS people are really interested in talking things out.

    I’m sure they’re not. but eventually you have to get them to want to talk. The notion that you can just keep bombing and fighting them into extinction simply wont’ work.

    Now, this may take a long time. I mean decades long time, see the PLO and company. But either they prevail or they ultimately surrender or make peace. Meanwhile the fight has to go on, I realize that. The bottom line is you can’t declare a terrorist group gone until you have convinced them to stop.

  7. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: Yes, the demise of the PLO has really solved all the problems in the Mideast.

    Ok, the IRA is a better example, where their political wing was brought into the system, and undercut the violent wing. But, with Brexit, everyone is worried that a hard border in North Ireland is just going to restart the Troubles. And it probably will, although hopefully not as bad as before.

    You can get a pause, or a reduction of intensity, but the underlying grievances are still there, ready to be exploited, and will return.

    And the IRA had a clear, small set of complaints. Compare that to the Mideast where it is generations of poverty, a semi functional infrastructure, a century of colonialism and leaders using the west as a convenient scapegoat. We can’t solve those problems, even if we wanted to.

    I’m reminded of Vonnegut’s introduction to Slaughterhouse Five, where he says that writing an anti-war book would be like writing an anti-glacier book. Ironically, we have made significant progress in our war against glaciers, so maybe there’s hope?

    Maybe we need to just put MDMA in everyone’s water supply.

  8. Kathy says:


    Two books(*) I’ve read recently insist that humanity has grown more peaceful since the end of WWII. They cite a lot of statistics, make comparisons to the past, use proportional figures, etc., and overall make a very convincing case.

    Their one error, IMO, is to try to convince the reader of this. Especially when the authors try to get the reader to stop complaining so much about current levels of war, violence, and death.

    It’s not that I think they’re wrong, but that the belief, even if right, that things are so much better now, breeds complacency. Therefore fewer advances would be made.

    (*) The Internationalists, by Hathaway and Shapiro, and The Better Angels of Our Nature by Pinker.

  9. Andy says:

    First of all, it makes the claims of the Trump Administration and other nations that ISIS had been largely defeated with the fall of its capital in Syria appear to be at best an exaggeration and at the worst a bald-faced lie.

    ISIS claiming responsibility is not the same thing as ISIS actually being responsible.

  10. Slugger says:

    Any reason to think that anything ISIS says is true? I’m sure some of the things they say are true but only for the purpose of making us believe the next set of lies. I was going to say self-aggrandizing lies, but these claims are actually self-humiliating; vicious murder of innocents is always shameful.
    BTW, how should we feel about the 37 executed, including one by crucifixion, by the Saudis today? I understand that they were all Shia.

  11. Gustopher says:


    Any reason to think that anything ISIS says is true?

    On a scale of one to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, where would you rate the mendacity of ISIS?

  12. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: Could you elaborate a bit more on what these books say?

    We’ve had less war and mass slaughtering of civilian populations is down since WWII, but I would argue that this is mostly a separate issue than terrorism, hate crimes, and easily persuaded idiots having easy access to weapons of modest destruction.

    And even of the subject of war and genocide, we haven’t had one of the violent idiots in control of a major white country for a while (would we notice genocide in China? Maybe, maybe not), but we see the same behavior at a smaller scale popping up elsewhere — Buddhists driving out the Rohinga in Myanmar, Serbs in the breakup of Yugoslavia, Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda… and Cambodia, and Pinochet…

    Maybe I just have a very low opinion of humanity, but I think there’s a constant percentage that are just evil. Relatively low. 27% of voting Americans, which is 13% of the population? Can they find a crossover leader to make them part of the ruling coalition and have the ability to act out their idiot violence? Or are they reduced to terrorism and hate crimes?

    Unempowered they commit hate crimes when they think they can get away with it, and resent it when they think they can’t. A little more power and they are terrorists. Much more, and we have state sponsored genocide.

    I have issues.

    On the other hand, when I read about a hate crime, I think “well, at least we have them oppressed enough that they don’t have the cover of law.” And feel optimistic until I read about my local police shooting a black guy in the back of the head at a traffic stop.

  13. Kathy says:


    Could you elaborate a bit more on what these books say?

    The Internationalists is about the Kellogg-Briand Pact (aka the Pact of Paris) which outlawed war a few years after WWII. The authors are legal scholars, not historians. They delve deeply into the legal theories of war and diplomacy through time, and how the Pact changed things. In the last part of the book they compare levels of war pre- and post-Pact, including WWII.

    Pinker’s book is about how the world as a whole has turned less violent. He claims even that the whole XX Century, not just the post-war period, was less violent, proportionally, than other eras. I don’t quite buy that, but it’s true that in the past atrocities were far more common and widespread even in minor conflicts. But WWII, IMO, was the biggest display of brutality on multiple sides the world has ever seen (and let us hope will ever see*)

    Hathaway and Shapiro do distinguish wars between and within countries. The latter are not outlawed in the international order, and continue much as they did before, or worse. A simple example is that after committing many troops and resources to oust Saddam from Kuwait, the US did little to help either the internal massacres or the suppression of rebellions Saddam engaged in inside Iraq.

    So they’re not saying it’s all smiles and rainbows, only that it’s far less gloomy now. I concede the point.

    (*) I’m reading a book by Ellseberg about his work involving nuclear weapons and nuclear war plans. Some of the very cold-hearted calculations he cites for the late 50s and early 60s, such as how many millions of deaths each side in the Cold War was willing to deem acceptable, IMO reflect the morality acquired in WWII.

  14. Kathy says:


    The Internationalists is about the Kellogg-Briand Pact (aka the Pact of Paris) which outlawed war a few years after WWII.

    Sorry, that’s after World War ONE.

  15. Gustopher says:


    So they’re not saying it’s all smiles and rainbows, only that it’s far less gloomy now. I concede the point.

    I do need something to convince me things are less gloomy…