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We warned government about radical preachers in Lanka: mosque official

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We warned government about radical preachers in Lanka: mosque official
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Colombo: The Sri Lankan government came under attack on Wednesday for its inaction against radical preachers in the country with a mosque official here saying he had repeatedly warned authorities, including on the activities of the alleged mastermind of the deadly suicide attacks on Easter Sunday.

Suicide bombers, the majority of them from well-to-do families and believed to be members of a little-known- Islamist extremist group - the National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) - carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing 359 people, including 10 Indians, in the country's worst terror attack.

Reyyaz Salley, chairman of the Shaikh Usman Waliyullah mosque in Colombo said he had repeatedly attempted to warn the government about radical preachers in Sri Lanka, including Zahran Hashim, the alleged mastermind of the attacks.

"They started to attack Sufi mosques and shrines (in 2010)," he said.

In February 2019, Salley sent police and intelligence officials videos that Hashim made, which Salley considered promoting jihad. He urged them to act upon it.

"People have been brainwashed. He was talking about jihad. These are all very dangerous messages for the country," he told CNN.

"If the authorities had taken our advice this could have been prevented," he said.

Some of the attackers in the bombings had previously been arrested, State Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told journalists at a press conference on Wednesday.

"Some of them, in earlier incidents, had been taken into custody (following) small skirmishes, but nothing of this magnitude," he said.

Wijewardene said that the majority of Sunday's suicide bombers were from well-heeled families. They were also well-educated, including at least university graduate who had studied abroad.

"Most of them are well-educated, and come from maybe middle- or upper-middle-class. So they are financially quite independent and their families are quite stable financially," he said.

"We believe that one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and maybe later on did his post-graduate in Australia, before coming back to settle in Sri Lanka," he said.

Police say they have identified eight out of nine attackers - one of whom is believed to have been a woman - with no foreigners among them.

Authorities say they are looking into possible links between the locals who carried out the suicide bombings and the Islamic State group.

Sri Lanka's government has blamed the blasts on local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ).

But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the attacks "could not have been done just locally".

"There had been training given and a coordination which we are not seeing earlier," he said.

Police have now detained around 60 suspects in connection with the attack. A state of emergency remains in effect to prevent further attacks.

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