A radical Islamic group blamed for a series of suicide bombings that killed almost 300 people and injured about 500 others in Sri Lanka was a local branch of ISIS, it is claimed. Members of National Thowheed Jamath are alleged to have blown themselves up at three churches and three hotels on the Indian Ocean island with help from an international network.
However, neither NTJ, nor any other group, has admitted carrying out the wave of bombings which tore through the island, killing almost 300 people. But still, the allegation raises the question, who are NTJ?
It is believed to be a splinter group of the hardline Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ), and its name roughly translates as National Monotheism Organisation. Until Monday, when the Sri Lankan government spokesman mentioned their name, very few people had heard of the NTJ. The group is believed to have splintered off from another hardline Islamist group in the country, the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ).
While still relatively unknown, the SLTJ is a bit more established. Their secretary, Abdul Razik, was arrested in 2016 for inciting hatred against Buddhists. He later issued an apology.
Some reports have also linked the NTJ to a spate of vandalism last December that targeted Buddhist temples in Mawanella, central Sri Lanka. Then, they attacked the faces of Buddha statues that were on display outside the temples.
But they are an extremist fringe group within an already small religious minority – only 9.7% of Sri Lanka’s population of about 21 million are Muslim.
Their social media presence is sparse, too. Although they have a Facebook page, it is only updated every few weeks or so. Their Twitter page hasn’t been updated since March 2018.
The group’s website is also offline – although it’s not clear if it was taken down before or after Sunday’s attacks.