At least one suicide bomber in the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka trained with Islamic State in Syria, people with knowledge of the investigations said, reflecting the extremist group’s continued reach after the collapse of its self-declared caliphate.
The first direct links between Islamic State and those who carried out the deadly bombings came as the group released on Monday a rare recorded video purportedly of its leader, 47-year-old Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In the video, which couldn’t be independently confirmed by The Wall Street Journal and would be the first known footage of the jihadist in nearly five years, Baghdadi urged followers to fight on despite the setbacks. He called the Sri Lanka attacks an act of revenge following the caliphate’s loss of its last strip of territory in Syria.
Investigators said one suicide bomber, Jameel Mohammed Abdul Latheef, had planned to blow himself up at a luxury hotel, Taj Samudra, in the capital Colombo around the same time Easter morning that other attackers detonated explosives strapped to their bodies at three other top-end hotels and three churches.
But they believe Latheef’s device malfunctioned. He blew himself up outside a small inn, killing himself and two other people.
Latheef traveled to Raqqa, Syria, in 2014, when it was Islamic State’s de facto capital and attracted foreign fighters from around the world, one of the people familiar with the matter said. There, he linked up with Islamic State recruiters, including then-Australian national Neil Prakash and British citizen Mohammed Emwazi. Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” was suspected to be behind the gruesome beheadings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. He was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2015.