Islamic State claims Sri Lanka attacks with at least 45 children among dead

The Islamic State group has released a photo of the man the Sri Lanka government has identified as the leader of the Easter attacks, asserting its claim of responsibility for the assault which killed more than 320 people.

The group released the photo on Tuesday evening through its Aamaq news agency.

Sri Lankan authorities have blamed the militant Muslim group National Thowfeek Jamaath for the attack.

Its leader, named Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online.

Earlier on Tuesday, the country’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said authorities suspected links to the group but were still investigating.

Islamic State, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, said six were suicide bombers who “immersed” themselves among the victims before blowing up their vests.

It said one attacker clashed with police in Dematagoda.

Catholic nuns attend a funeral service (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

The group said the attackers targeted citizens of the US-led coalition fighting IS and referred to Easter as an “infidel holiday”.

The UN children’s agency said at least 45 children were killed in the Sri Lanka Easter attacks.

Unicef said 27 children died and 10 were injured in the bombing of St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo.

It said 13 children died in blasts in Batticaloa and 15 were injured.

The agency says that among foreign victims, five were children.

Twenty children have also been taken to hospital in Colombo.

Sri Lankans pray during a three-minute nationwide silence (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Unicef also said many children lost one or both parents in the attacks and would need psychological treatment.

More than 320 people were killed and 500 injured in the bombings.

Many funerals took place in Sri Lanka for victims of Sunday’s attack, notably in Negombo which has been compared to Rome because of its numerous churches.

Mr Wickremesinghe said it was likely that there were still terrorists “out there” and said some officials will likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses surrounding the attack.

Mr Wickremesinghe acknowledged there was a prior warning and said India’s embassy was eyed as a possible target.

Sri Lanka’s minister of defence said the bombings were “carried out in retaliation” for attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, which claimed 50 lives, carried out by a gunman who streamed the attack on social media and has espoused extreme right views.

Ruwan Wijewardene made the comment to politicians in Parliament on Tuesday, without providing evidence or explaining where the information came from.

Relatives bury three members of the same family, all killed at Easter Sunday bomb blast at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

The office of New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern said it had not “seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based” and pointed out the probe was in its early stages.

Mr Wijewardene said the toll from co-ordinated bombings at churches, luxury hotels and other sites now stands at 321 people dead and 500 injured.

Authorities have further increased security measures after the bombings.

Police issued orders on Tuesday that anyone parking a car on the street and leaving unattended must put a note with their phone number on the windscreen.

Postal officials meanwhile said they would no longer accept pre-wrapped parcels for posting.

Police have arrested 40 suspects in the Sri Lanka attacks, including the driver of a van allegedly used by suicide bombers and the owner of a house where some of them lived, officials said.

Sri Lanka’s president gave the military a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects on Tuesday, powers that were used

during the 26-year civil war but withdrawn when it ended in 2009.

- Press Association

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