Sri Lankan authorities Monday blamed a little-known Islamist group called National Thowfeek Jamaath (NTJ) for a series of coordinated attacks targeting churches and luxury hotels across the country that killed 290 and injured about 500 others.
NTJ has not claimed responsibility for the eight bombings, but Sri Lankan officials say the main blasts Sunday were carried out by seven suicide bombers of the group, with possible outside help of which authorities have not released details pending an ongoing investigation.
Who is NTJ?
NTJ is believed to have started at least three years ago in eastern Sri Lanka as an offshoot of Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ), another Islamist group known for its extremist ideology and the indoctrination of children.
SLTJ has attempted to attract conservative Muslims in Sri Lanka for years by speaking out about Buddhist hard-liners and opposing the country’s reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.
SLTJ’s leader, Abdul Razik, was arrested in November 2016 on charges of inciting religious extremism and hate speech during a protest in the majority-Muslim suburb of Maligawatte.
Very little is known about NTJ’s membership, but its size is likely modest compared to SLTJ, according to Michael Kugelman, deputy director for South Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center.
Kugelman said the group’s main activities in the past months have consisted of targeting Buddhist statues as the country’s Buddhists feuded with Muslims. If NTJ was behind Sunday’s attacks on Christians and foreigners, it would seem to indicate the group wants to expand further, experts say.
“A broader goal of this shadowy group may be to instill terror — just like al-Qaida and ISIS — the groups that NJT appears to model itself on,” Kugelman told VOA.