U.S. charges three SL over role in 2019 Easter Sunday attacks

Saturday, 9 January 2021

The Justice Department of the United States announced Friday (January 08) that three Sri Lankan citizens were charged with terrorism offenses, including conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (ISIS).

The department said three men in question were part of a group of ISIS supporters which called itself ‘ISIS in Sri Lanka,’ responsible for the 2019 Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, which killed 268 people and injured over 500 others.

Five U.S. citizens were also among the victims. One of them was a Department of Commerce employee who had traveled to the island nation on official business.

The complaint outlines the defendants’ roles in the conspiracy and the events that led to near-simultaneous suicide bombings in the Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa on the 21st of April 2019.

Two days after the attacks, ISIS claimed credit for the terrorist acts, attributing the murders to ‘Islamic State fighters.’ In late April 2019, the then-leader of ISIS praised the attackers for what he called a retaliation against “the West” for defeating ISIS the prior month in Baghuz, Syria.

The criminal case filed on Dec. 11, 2020, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles is the result of a nearly two-year investigation by the FBI, which assisted Sri Lankan authorities in the wake of the suicide bombings that targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels frequented by Westerners, the department said in its statement.

The three defendants named in the criminal complaint are;

• Mohamed Naufar, the “second emir” for the group of ISIS supporters that called itself “ISIS in Sri Lanka,” who allegedly led the group’s propaganda efforts, recruited others to join ISIS, and led a series of multi-day military-type trainings;

• Mohamed Anwar Mohamed Riskan, who allegedly helped manufacture the IEDs used in the Easter Attacks; and

• Ahamed Milhan Hayathu Moahmed, who allegedly executed a police officer in order to obtain the officer’s firearm, shot a suspected informant, and scouted a location for a separate terrorist attack.

All three defendants are charged with conspiring to provide, providing, and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Additionally, Naufar and Milhan have been charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of military-type training from ISIS.

The investigation is conducted by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles, including personnel assigned responsibilities for extraterritorial matters.

The matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annamartine Salick, George E. Pence IV and Christine M. Ro of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section, and Trial Attorney Alicia Cook of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs has also provided valuable assistance, the department added.

“According to these charges, the defendants were committed supporters of ISIS, recruited others to ISIS’s violent cause, purchased materials for and made IEDs, helped to prepare and trained others who participated in the attacks, and murdered in the name of this deadly foreign terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

“They are in custody in Sri Lanka,” he said adding that the U.S. will fully support Sri Lanka’s investigation and prosecution of these terrorists and will continue to work with the authorities there to pursue the shared goal of holding these defendants accountable for their crimes.

“At the same time, these charges reflect that the U.S. justice system remains a powerful tool to bring to bear against those who harm our citizens abroad. We will continue to pursue justice for the victims of these heinous attacks and for all American victims of terrorism,” Mr Demers noted.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Nick Hanna said, “This case clearly demonstrates that the United States will take decisive action to ensure terrorists face justice when they target Americans anywhere in the world.”

“The United States remains confident in the Sri Lankan authorities’ ability to bring the perpetrators to justice – and this complaint makes clear that we stand ready with these charges in the event the defendants attempt to evade justice,” she said further.

“The domestic charges announced today for an attack on foreign soil represent the FBI’s commitment to deliver justice to traveling American victims and to protect U.S. interests here and abroad,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

He added: “For decades, and particularly since 9/11, the FBI has deployed agents to various parts of the world to establish an investigative foothold and to liaison with local counterparts with a shared goal of combatting terror globally. Our enduring hope is that criminal prosecution – whether domestic or foreign – will bring some peace to the hundreds of victims killed or injured in Sri Lanka as a result of this horrific attack.” (adaderana.lk)