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'Mother of Satan' bombs show foreign involvement in Sri Lanka bombings

Colombo

ONE month after the Sri Lanka suicide attacks that killed more than 250 people, investigators have said the bombers used "Mother of Satan" explosives favoured by the Islamic State group - a new sign of foreign involvement.

Detectives said the backpack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local jihadists with Islamic State expertise. They named the explosive as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an unstable but easily made mixture favoured by Islamic State militants who call it "Mother of Satan".

It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago.

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Islamic State has claimed the Sri Lankan bombers operated as part of its franchise. But Sri Lankan and international investigators are anxious to know just how much outside help went into the attacks that left 258 dead and 500 injured.

"The group had easy access to chemicals and fertiliser to get the raw materials to make TATP," said an official involved in the investigation.

Sri Lankan detectives say the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), local militants blamed for the attacks, must have had foreign help to assemble the bombs.

"They would have had a face-to-face meeting to transfer this technology. This is not something you can do by watching a YouTube video," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Investigators had initially believed that C4 explosives - a favoured weapon of Tamil Tiger rebels - were used, but forensic tests found TATP which causes more burning than C4.

Police have also confirmed that 100 kg of explosives found in January in the island's north-west was TATP. They are checking the travel records of the suicide bombers as well as foreign suspects to see when and where bomb-making lessons could have been staged.

"It looks like they used a cocktail of TATP and gelignite and some chemicals in the Easter attacks. They were short of the 100 kilos of raw TATP that were seized in January," said the investigator.

Sri Lankan security forces have staged a series of raids since the bombings. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said on Sunday that 89 suspects are in custody.

Army chief Mahesh Senanayake said last week that at least two suspects have been arrested in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, underscoring the international link.

On April 26, six militants, three widows of the suicide bombers and six of their children were killed at an NTJ safe house near the eastern coastal town of Kalmunai. Police found large quantities of chemicals and fertiliser there that were probably meant to make bombs, authorities said.

The government has admitted that Indian warnings of the looming attacks in early April were ignored.

But President Maithripala Sirisena has said eight countries are helping the investigation. A US Federal Bureau of Investigation team is in Sri Lanka, and Britain, Australia and India have provided forensic and technical support.

China offered a fleet of vehicles to bolster the mobility of the security forces tracking down militants. AFP