‘We never thought they were these kinds of people’: say neighbours of wealthy brothers behind Sri Lanka attacks

Colombo: Two wealthy brothers who lived in a luxurious three-storey house on Mahawela Gardens in Colombo suburbs have emerged as key plotters in suicide attacks on Easter Sunday that killed over 350 people and shocked an island state that had enjoyed a decade of relative peace.

Their neighbours, including Sri Lankan housewife Fathima Fazla, regarded them as the affluent celebrities of their humble Colombo suburb. They had no idea how notorious they would become.

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the serial blasts targeting three churches and four hotels.

Inshaf Ibrahim, a 33-year-old copper factory owner, detonated his explosive device at the busy breakfast buffet of the luxury Shangri-La hotel, a source close to the family said.

When cops went later that day to raid the family home, his younger brother Ilham Ibrahim detonated a bomb that killed him, his wife and the couple’s three children, the source said, requesting anonymity for fear of retributions.

“They seemed like good people,” Fazla told Reuters from her modest home facing the Ibrahim family residence.

The brothers’ names were also reported in local media. Sri Lankan authorities have not released the identities of any of the bombers, and police did not respond to request for comment.

The brother’s father, Mohamed Ibrahim, was arrested as police probe those behind the blasts, police said. Ibrahim, a wealthy spice trader and pillar of the business community, had six sons and three daughters. He was respected by many who knew him.

“He was famous in the area for helping the poor with food and money. It’s unbelievable his children could have done that,” Fazla said. “Because of what they have done, all Muslims are seen as suspects.”

Ilham Ibrahim, 31, openly expressed radical ideas and had been involved in meetings of National Thowheed Jamath, a local Islamist group suspected of engagement in planning the attacks, according to the source close to the family.

His entrepreneur brother, Inshaf, was outwardly more moderate in his views, and was known to be liberal with donations to his staff and struggling local households, the source said. Inshaf was married to a daughter of a wealthy jewellery manufacturer and he faced no problems with money.

“I was shocked. We never thought they were these kinds of people,” said Sanjeewa Jayasinghe, a 38-year-old network cabling engineer who works next door to the Ibrahim family home.