About 2 km from the three-storey bungalow in Colombo’s Dematagoda, where a ninth bomber blew herself up along with her three children after the Easter Sunday blasts, a grim silence hangs over a copper smelting factory with a bright blue roof.
The factory, investigators suspect, is linked to the terror plot behind the serial blasts that targetted churches and hotels across the country, killing 253 people. Its owner: Inshad Ibrahim, one of the three sons of M Y Ibrahim who is known across Lanka as a spice exporter, including to India, and head of one of its noted business families.
Ibrahim’s two sons, Inshad and Ilham, were among the nine bombers identified by police. A senior Army intelligence officer said the two were carrying “15-20 kg of C4 explosives” each. Ibrahim himself is now in custody, and police are probing whether he or his third son had any knowledge of the attacks.
Investigators are also probing whether Inshad’s factory, which was set up around seven months ago, is linked to some of the material used for the blasts, and are probing whether any of the employees were involved. Some of the employees were detained for questioning, but not arrested.
On Thursday, The Indian Express reached the factory at Mahabodhi Wellampitiya, a thickly populated working-class neighbourhood in Colombo’s northern suburbs — and came across staff busy with immigration papers “to send back about 40 Bangladeshi workers who want to return home”.
“All of them are already at the embassy. We have about 60 staffers. Except for senior staff monitoring the operation, all the others were brought from Bangladesh. The others were distant relatives of the Ibrahim family,” an employee told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
An investigator said records linked to the four-storey building are being probed since “a huge investment has gone into the complex”. “We have information that weeks before the blasts, Inshad transferred ownership of the company to some close relatives. We are probing the trail of the money that went into setting up this factory, which was built in a short span of time,” he said.
Adjacent to the factory, is the office of an interior designer who says he “still can’t believe” Inshad was among those behind the blasts. “When they were building this huge structure, there were damages to my old building. When I contacted Inshad, he immediately sent people to repair them,” the designer, who did not wish to be identified, said.
Near Inshad’s factory, is a bigger establishment, including a godown, that belongs to Ibrahim. It’s shut, with no sign of any activity or workers inside.
At Colombo’s elite Flower Terrace road, a relative of Ibrahim claimed that elders and women of the family have been shifted to another location, as they are “facing the worst for someone’s madness”.
Back at the three-storey bungalow near the Dematagoda flyover, a white BMW covered with white dust is parked on a narrow road that has been cordoned off by police. The car and the bungalow were the first clues that led to the family at the heart of the terror plot.
The car was spotted by investigators reviewing CCTV footage outside the Cinnamon Grand hotel in Colombo, which was among the hotels targetted. And the bungalow was where a 30-year-old Fathima, the pregnant wife of Ilham, detonated a suicide vest when police arrived.
“We reached the bungalow, where the brothers lived, after we tracked the vehicle at the hotel minutes before the blasts happened. The entire living area on the third floor was damaged when she detonated the bomb, which also killed three of our personnel,” the investigator said.
“The two sons, both in their 30s, were radicalised beyond imagination… Both the brothers studied in elite institutions here and abroad (UK and Australia). We have also found that they had been travelling to Africa often for business,” an investigator said.
Sources say Ibrahim’s Ishana Exports Pvt Ltd primarily imports pepper from Vietnam and exports it to various countries. They say he was well-connected politically — so much so, that just two years ago, the government decided to honour him with the Presidential Export Excellence Award.