Members of prominent business family behind Easter Sunday blasts: All you need to know

Two brothers affiliated to one of the wealthiest and most prominent Muslim families based out of a Colombo suburb, have been identified as key players in the spate of bombings that shook Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

As investigation proceeds, with 76 local suspects already in custody, Ilham and Inshaf Ibrahim, whose father Mohamed Ibrahim is respected as a pillar of the Sri Lankan business community, have been accused of orchestrating two of the seven suicide blasts on Sunday.

While Inshaf, 38, exploded his device at the busy breakfast buffet of Shangri La Hotel in the capital city, younger brother Ilham, 31, exploded his at the family residence on Mahawela Gardens, Dematagoda, Colombo, when the police swooped down on suspects after the eight coordinated attacks across other hotels and churches.

Ilham is also believed to have attended meetings of National Thowheeth Jama’ath, the little-known Islamic radical group blamed for this attack. However, the brothers’ links to the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks, is not clear yet. The nature of the relationship between any of the attackers and ISIS is not known.

Family of hate, loved by many

Neighbours and employees, however, are distraught and in disbelief; workers at Inshaf’s copper factory described him as a kind boss who was liberal with donations to his staff and struggling local families. His father, who was also interrogated by the Sri Lankan police in the aftermath of the attacks, is respected by many who know him.

All their acquaintances reported that the family has always lived a life of privilege and luxury; a neighbour even told CNN that the Ibrahim family was “very well-connected, very rich, politically-connected as well.”

Mohamed, a wealthy spice tradesman, has six sons and three daughters, was popular for helping the poor with food and money, and made sure his family never suffered problems with money. His company Ishana Exports describes itself on its website as the “largest exporter of spices from Sri Lanka since 2006.”

Reyyaz Salley, chairman of Colombo’s largest and oldest mosque said the elder Ibrahim was “a really nice person”—”We knew him as a normal person and as a businessperson,” he said.

The family lived in a grand three-storied white residence on one of the most exclusive streets of Colombo, which was blown up when the police came for Ilham on Sunday, after the explosion at St. Sebastian’s.

The sins of the sons

The blast killed him, his wife Fatima and the couple’s three children. Fatima, who was pregnant at the time, is believed to have set of the suicide vest, also killing three police officers in the process.

According to a source close to the family, Ilham was always vocal about his extremist ideologies. But, his entrepreneur brother was reportedly more moderate in his views. Both brothers are believed to have received education overseas.

Inshaf was married to the daughter of a wealthy jeweller, and lived in a £1.5million mansion with their four daughters. His factory, Colossus Copper, located on an industrial belt on the outskirts of Colombo, is believed to have been used as a bomb-making factory.

Reports suggest that it may have supplied the bolts and screws, which filled the suicide vests and caused maximum carnage. Nine Sri Lankans at the factory, who worked alongside several Indian and Bangladeshi migrant workers, were arrested shortly before midnight on Sunday. They were produced before court this week, including the manager.

Inshaf’s brother-in-law was reported as saying by MirrorNow, that Inshaf said he was going to Zambia on Friday for work. He “went to the airport with my sister and their four children in a car. When he said goodbye he held her head and said, ‘Be strong’,” the source added.

A neighbour told local media that they seemed like good people and it’s unthinkable “his [Mohamed’s] children could have done that,” referring to their actions that have plunged the island nation into terror and chaos after a decade of relative peace.

She also noted how their actions have made suspects out of all Muslims in Sri Lanka, who account for a 10% minority of the country’s population. True enough, Muslims from all walks of life are already becoming unwitting targets as the attack is being increasingly posited as a war between Christians and Muslims.

Villainising an entire community to justify interfaith violence: there’s a pattern

The revelation of the blood brothers’ involvement has shaken the tiny Muslim community of Colombo and the rest of the nation, which remains on edge of interreligious mob violence that has gripped several South Asian nations of late, including India.

Activists say Sri Lankan Muslim youths have disappeared, perhaps arrested by clandestine security forces, or afraid to step out of their homes.

“The Christians have always been brotherly with us,” said the manager of a Colombo mosque, but now she fears that some may want to “take revenge, or take advantage, especially in rural areas where people are not protected.”

According to the Washington Post, Ahmadi Muslims in Colombo were shouted at, pulled out of tuk-tuks, pelted with stones, and hit with sticks, in the wake of the attacks. Others saw their homes attacked. Nearly 200 of them were huddling inside their mosque in Negombo on Thursday. More than 500 sought shelter in the small town of Pasyala, protected by police and soldiers.

Defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene noted at a press conference on Wednesday that, it was worrying that those responsible for the attacks on Easter Sunday were well-educated, from upper-middle class families, and financially independent.

Updates: other bombers identified

British intelligence identified another bomber as Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed. According to them, he studied in the UK between 2006 and 2007. An advisor to president Sirisena also identified one of the men who blew himself up at the Shangri-La hotel as Inshan Seelavan, and described him as the “mastermind” of the attacks.

Sri Lankan police released the pictures of all suspects late Thursday, 25 April, even enlisting the help of the army and military to track some of them down.

CCTV footage, from one of the churches targeted in the coordinated attacks, caught a suicide bomber on film. He ruffled the hair of a child before proceeding to blow up 67 innocent worshippers.

Another accomplice or possible mastermind, internationally recognised as Zaharan Hashim, the purported leader of NTJ, is hiding in eastern Sri Lanka, according to intel reports from India. He was pictured in a photograph released by a news agency affiliated with ISIS Tuesday.

Meanwhile, defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned in response to the backlash after the bombings, and for failing to avert it despite multiple warnings from national and international intelligence agencies.

Read more: How officials ignored warnings about Hashim’s growing radicalisation

Hilmy Ahamed, vice-president of the Muslim Council in Sri Lanka, was reported as saying, “We are totally embarrassed as a community. We have failed as a community to monitor what was happening in our backyard,” he said. “Most of these young people are radicalised online. That is what worries me, as a parent of two young boys. We are always worried that they might be radicalised through the internet.”

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

Religious violenceSri LankaTerrorism