Sri Lanka attacks: Suicide bomber studied in UK and Australia, officials say

Sean Morrison, Bonnie Christian

One of the suspected suicide bombers in Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attacks studied in the UK and Australia, officials have said.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s deputy defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene also said an explosion outside the Savoy hotel earlier was a controlled blast on a motorbike as the country remained on high alert in the wake of the attacks.

"We believe one of the suicide bombers studied in the UK and then later on did his postgraduate in Australia, before coming back to settle in Sri Lanka," he said.

“This group of suicide bombers, most of them are well-educated and come from middle or upper-middle class, so they are financially quite independent and their families are quite stable financially, that is a worrying factor in this.

“Some of them have I think studied in various other countries, they hold degrees, LLMs [law degrees], they’re quite well-educated people.”

He said nine suicide bombers, including one woman, were behind the attacks and that eight of them had been identified so far. But 58 people in total have been arrested, including 18 more suspects overnight.

The death toll from the Easter suicide bombings in Sri Lanka has risen to 359.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, warned that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large.

Family put flowers on the grave of Rexy Duglas, 67, at a cemetery near St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka. (REUTERS)

Up to nine people directly linked to the attack could still be at large, according to sources involved in the investigation.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility and released images that purported to show seven bombers who blew themselves up at three churches and three hotels on Sunday.

It was the worst violence the South Asian island nation had seen since its civil war ended a decade ago.

A photo released by Amaq News Agency shows the men ISIS claim were behind the attacks (AP)

The government has said the attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacre last month but said the seven bombers were all Sri Lankan.

Mr Wijewardene said the investigation was continuing and authorities expected to make further arrests in the coming days.

“We can firmly say in the next couple of days our security agencies will have the situation of this country firmly under control,” he said.

Sri Lankan security personnel keep watch outside the church premises following a blast at the St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade in Colombo. (AFP/Getty Images)

New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern said she had not received any official advice from Sri Lanka or seen any intelligence to corroborate the claims.

Police blew up a suspicious motorbike parked near the popular cinema in the city on Wednesday.

St Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo (AP)

Officials confirmed a controlled explosion was carried out but later said no explosives were found in the vehicle.

Washinton's ambassador to Colombo said the United States had no prior knowledge of the attacks but now believes there is ongoing terrorism plotting in the country.