- The men allegedly were members of a group of ISIS supporters that carried out the terrorist attacks killing 268 people.
Three Sri Lankan citizens were charged in a Los Angeles federal court on Jan. 8 with terrorism offenses, including conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The men allegedly were part of a group of ISIS supporters that called itself “ISIS in Sri Lanka. The group carried out terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Day in 2019, killing 268 people, including five U.S. citizens, and injured over 500 others.
Mohamed Naufar, Mohamed Anwar Mohamed Riskan and Ahamed Milhan Hayathu Moahmed are accused of conspiring to provide material support to ISIS, according to a Department of Justice press release. All three defendants are charged with conspiring to provide, providing, and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Additionally, Naufar and Milhan are charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of military-type training from ISIS.
The court complaint outlines the defendants’ roles in the conspiracy and the events that led to near-simultaneous suicide bombings in the Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa on April 21, 2019. Two days after the attacks, ISIS claimed credit for the terrorist acts, attributing the murders to “Islamic State fighters.” In late April 2019, the then-leader of ISIS praised the attackers for what he called a retaliation against “the West” for defeating ISIS the prior month in Baghuz, Syria.
Naufar, the “second emir” for “ISIS in Sri Lanka,” allegedly led the group’s propaganda efforts, recruited others to join ISIS, and led a series of multi-day military-type trainings; Riskan, allegedly helped manufacture the IEDs used in the attacks; and Moahmed, allegedly executed a police officer in order to obtain the officer’s firearm, shot a suspected informant, and scouted a location for a separate terrorist attack.
The three men, along with other suspects linked to the attacks, currently are detained in Sri Lanka, where a criminal investigation is ongoing. “We fully support the Sri Lankan investigation and prosecution of these terrorists and will continue to work with the authorities there to pursue our shared goal of holding these defendants accountable for their crimes,” said John C. Demers, an assistant attorney general who leads the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, in a statement. 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.”
Citing an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Merrilee R. Goodwin, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mohamad Cassim Mohamad Zahran, “the mastermind of the attacks and self-styled commander of the Sri Lankan ISIS cell blew himself up in a luxury hotel in the Easter morning attacks, claimed to have had a direct line of communication to ISIS leaders in Syria and used ISIS-issued instruction materials to train recruits in Sri Lanka.”
Naufar was Zahran’s second-in-command. The Los Angeles Times report further said that “over four days of interviews at Sri Lankan police headquarters in Colombo, Naufar explained to FBI agents how he met Zahran, warmed to the message of ISIS and eventually embraced its cause.” Riskan, Naufar’s co-defendant in the U.S. case, is a member of the Sri Lankan ISIS cell who arranged safe houses and purchased chemicals used to make explosives, the affidavit said.
According to the document, the Los Angeles Times said that Riskan told FBI agents that Zahran had asked him three days before the bombings to take part in a ‘revenge mission,’ “for the attack on a mosque and Islamic center in Christchurch, New Zealand; and a recent ISIS defeat on the battlefields of Syria.” Although Riskan claimed to have refused to take part in the attacks,he admitted packing the bombs used in them with ball bearings, the Los Angeles Times said. He also acknowledged testing a bomb on a beach in Batticaloa, a city on Sri Lanka’s east coast.
Milhan, the third defendant in the U.S. case, murdered two Sri Lankan police officers in an attempt to acquire firearms for the Sri Lankan ISIS cell. After efforts to obtain guns on the black market failed, Zahran directed Milhan to attack a police station, steal its weapons and leave no officer alive, Milan told FBI agents, the Los Angeles Times report said.