By Rukshana Rizwie and Gayan Kumara Weerasinghe
The probe into the Easter Sunday bomb attacks and the extremist terrorist cell behind it receives a fillip with the arrival in Colombo yesterday of five arrested terror suspects including Mohamed Milhan alias Abu Seelan who is believed to be the chosen successor of National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) leader and deceased suicide bomber Zahran Hashim.
These key suspects linked to the NTJ were arrested in the Saudi port city of Jeddah before being deported to Sri Lanka.
Milhan was also wanted in connection with the November 2018 killing of two police constables on duty near Batticaloa. NTJ leader Zahran Hashim’s hometown and main base was Kattankudy, which is a suburb south of Batticaloa.
This is the second time suspects have been arrested abroad in connection with the shock attacks against three churches and three luxury hotels spread across the country on April 21st, Easter Sunday. The attack was later claimed by West Asian Islamist terror group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
On Wednesday, the Indian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) during a raid in southern India, arrested many suspects with links to ISIS, among whom was Mohammed Azarudeen, 32-year-old key South Indian contact of Zahran Hashim. Hashim is suspected of having visited and stayed in South India in recent years and months prior to the Easter Sunday attack.
Police Media Spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara said several agents of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) escorted the suspects from Saudi Arabia arriving at Colombo airport 4.00 a.m. yesterday morning. The suspects are currently held under custody of CID. The special police CID team had reportedly left for Saudi Arabia on June 11 to bring back Mohamed Milhan who was being held in Saudi Police custody.
The NTJ armed wing leader Mohamed Milhan alias Abu Seelan is also said to have been ready for a suicide attack.
Police also believe that Milhan was one of the group responsible for the killing of two Police Constables at a check point in Vavunathivu in Batticaloa on November 30, 2018.
Investigators also believe that it is Milhan who had shot and wounded Mohamed Naslim, Coordinating Secretary of senior UNPer and former Minister Kabir Hashim, in March this year. Naslim had helped the police to find the training camp in Wanathavilluwa used by Zahran’s group. Naslim was shot at on March 9 at his residence in what seemed to have been an attempt to assassinate him for his collaboration with the Police.
At the time Zahran and his group carried out the Easter Sunday attacks, Milhan had been to Mecca on pilgrimage. According to information revealed through investigations, Milhan had been preparing to carry out a second wave of attacks. He was scheduled to travel back to Sri Lanka for this attack on April 30. However, although he had arrived at the airport, he had not boarded the flight to Colombo but had stayed back the airport.
However, after the Interpol units had alerted the Saudi officials, Milhan who was hiding at the airport, was apprehended the same day. Although the Saudi law enforcement officials had said they would deport Milhan on a flight that same evening, even after a week no action had been taken to have him deported. A special team comprising CID and SIS officers had initially gone to Saudi Arabia to bring Milhan back but they returned without success.
The Saudi Authorities had later agreed to hand over Milhan to Sri Lanka after diplomatic overtures by Colombo and a second special CID team had gone to Saudi Arabia on June 11 based on that agreement, according to informed sources.