3 Sri Lankan nationals charged in US court with aiding 2019 bombings that killed hundreds

Los Angeles: Three Sri Lankan nationals were charged Friday in federal court in Los Angeles with supporting an ISIS cell that killed hundreds of people in a string of coordinated suicide bombings that shook Sri Lanka in 2019.

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Mohamed Naufar, Mohamed Anwar Mohamed Riskan and Ahamed Milhan Hayathu Moahmed are accused of conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. Naufar and Milhan are also charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of military training from ISIS.

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All three remain in custody in Sri Lanka, U.S. authorities said. It couldn’t be determined Friday if they had lawyers who could speak on their behalf.

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Sri Lankan authorities arrested Naufar, Riskan and Milhan but have yet to file charges against them or anyone else implicated in the attacks, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. If the three were brought to the United States to stand trial, federal court in Los Angeles would be the proper venue, the agent wrote.

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John C. Demers, an assistant attorney general who leads the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, said in a statement that U.S. authorities “fully support the Sri Lankan investigation and prosecution of these terrorists” and are working toward a “shared goal of holding these defendants accountable for their crimes.”

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“At the same time,” Demers added, “these charges reflect that the U.S. justice system remains a powerful tool to bring to bear against those who harm our citizens abroad.”

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New insight

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FBI agents worked alongside Sri Lankan authorities to investigate the Easter Sunday attacks. An agent’s 72-page affidavit, unsealed Friday, offers considerable new insight into the investigation and ties it uncovered between the Sri Lankan terrorist cell and ISIS leadership in Syria.

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The blasts began at 8:45 a.m. April 21, 2019. Eight men detonated explosives strapped to their backs in quick succession at churches and hotels in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, killing 268 people and injuring 500, FBI Special Agent Merrilee R. Goodwin wrote in the affidavit. Five U.S. citizens were among the dead.

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The bombers belonged to a group that called itself ISIS in Sri Lanka, Goodwin wrote. ISIS leadership in Syria claimed responsibility for the blasts, and published through its news agency an image and video of the Sri Lankan attackers swearing allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has since been killed by U.S. forces.

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