Sri Lankan police have determined that two of the eight suicide bombers who carried out the Easter Sunday bombings, one of the deadliest terror attacks in recent memory, were the sons of one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country - a spice trader whose family lived in what the New York Times described as a "beautiful white villa" just outside of the capital, Colombo.
The spice trader, Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, built his fortune on black pepper, white pepper, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla. He was even celebrated by Sri Lanka's former president for his "outstanding service to the nation." But that didn't stop two of his sons from joining a jihadist group and pledging their allegiance to ISIS.
Ibrahim has been arrested, one of 40 people rounded up during the investigation into the attacks, and is presently being questioned by police, who are trying to determine what he knew about his sons' activities, if anything.
An Indian official said that two of Mr. Ibrahim’s sons, who have been identified in Indian media reports as Inshaf and Ilham, were among the eight suicide bombers who struck at hotels and churches across this island. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and investigators said Mr. Ibrahim was being extensively interrogated.
When authorities traveled to the family's compound to take Ibrahim into custody, a grisly scene unfolded, as the wife of one of Ibrahim's sons, also clearly a terrorist sympathizer, detonated a suicide vest as police closed in, killing herself, two of her children and several police officers.
During a raid Sunday at his family’s villa near Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, a female suspect blew herself up in front of two of her children, killing them all, along with several police officers who were closing in, investigators said. The Indian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of a major terrorism investigation, said the woman who killed herself and her children was most likely the wife of one of Mr. Ibrahim’s sons.
Officials have been hesitant to reveal the identities of the suspected bombers, but police did say that they were mostly brought up in well-to-do households. Some had been radicalized on YouTube.
Sri Lankan officials have been reluctant to identify the suicide bombers, saying that could hamper their investigation.
But at a news conference on Wednesday, Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s minister of defense, said most of the bombers had been well educated and had come from middle-class or upper-class families.
"Financially they are quite independent and their families are stable financially. So that is a worrying fact," he said. "Some of them have studied in various other countries. They hold degrees, LLMs. They are quite well-educated people."
After claiming responsibility for the bombing, ISIS released a video showing Mohammed Zaharan, who has been identified as another one of the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks on three churches and three hotels, leading masked, black-clad disciples in pledging allegiance to ISIS. As authorities scramble to try and thwart any planned follow-up attacks, Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s minister of defense, has warned that "there could be still a few people out there.” He asked Sri Lankans to remain vigilant.
In a sign that they might have thwarted another planned attack, Sri Lankan police arrested three people on Thursday, seizing grenades and other weapons during a raid in Colombo.
As the official death toll from the attacks hits 359, with another 500 injured, the country's leaders are bickering over who deserves blame for failing to prevent the devastating bombings, since intelligence officials were reportedly warned earlier this month that an attack could be in the offing, but apparently failed to act. On Wednesday, Sri Lanka's president asked for the resignations of his defense secretary and national police chief, according to the CBC.