Video evidence suggests would-be Taj Samudra hotel bomber might have had two IEDs and prepped for a “double tap” bombing

Jun Thu, 2019 Hotel Attacks

An analysis of six minutes and 28 seconds of CCTV video (posted by several outlets such as the Daily Mail) from the Taj Samudra hotel suggests Sri Lanka Easter bomber, Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed, may have had two bombs with him at the hotel. His suicide backpack bomb failed to detonate, however, so he changed targets either on his own or by instruction from his cell’s control.

The possible scheme of attack for the Taj Samudra may have been as follows:

This hypothesis comes from Jameel’s convoluted comings and goings from the Taj Samudra, which were well captured on the hotel’s CCTV system. This hypothesis also comes from the supposition that the hotel/Sri Lankan authorities released all the CCTV from the Taj’s security system. If they did not, and there were even more convoluted movements, then this hypothesis will change.

The relevant data points pointing to this hypothesis are as follows, with inferred analysis in [brackets and italics]:

  1. The assailant checked into the Taj Samudra on 20 April at 4:53 pm, toting one piece of low, square-shaped roller luggage, henceforth referred to as, “square roller”.

 

  1. The assailant left the hotel with no luggage at 5:43 pm the same day.

 

  1. CCTV shows him returning to the hotel at 7:07 am the next day, 21 April – just under two hours from when the bombings were to begin – with a different piece of luggage, this one a high rectangular roller, henceforth referred to as, “rectangular roller.” He rolled his “rectangular roller” up to a very shallow step (about four inches), collapsed the tote handle, gingerly lifted the luggage up the shallow step, then re-extended the tote handle, and rolled it into the hotel. [Because this “rectangular roller” later appeared empty – see points 10 and 11 below – and because CCTV never shows the assailant entering the hotel with his backpack bomb (again, presuming all relevant CCTV in this case has been released), the indication is that the this “rectangular roller” contained his backpack bomb. The fact that he gingerly lifted the luggage up an approximate 4-inch step instead of “bump-rolling” it up the step as would be normal behavior for most travelers indicates he did not want to jar what was inside. This would be especially true if it contained a TATP-based IED, which is an extremely unstable explosive that can detonate with minimal shock. As of May-June 2019, TATP is one of the explosives the terrorists reportedly used in their bombs, multiple outlets said, such as The Economic Times.]

 

  1. Shortly thereafter, at 8:32 am, the assailant got into an elevator wearing a backpack – the exact color and type of backpack the other hotel bombers wore – and toting his “square roller”. [Since this is the first appearance of the backpack bomb, it is possible that it was contained in the “rectangular roller”, which appeared to be empty later as he left the hotel. See points 10 and 11, below.]

 

  1. At 8:41 am, the bomber is seen pressing the button for the lift at the lobby level just wearing his backpack, but his body language seems nervous, and he walks away from the elevators to the lobby and casts his gaze right. Interestingly, a hotel guest going into an elevator seems to notice the assailant’s odd demeanor. [Here, the indication is, since he went to the lobby with the backpack and the “square roller”, and later, the “square roller” was not seen until he left the hotel, that he left the “square roller” with the porter in the lobby at this time, and he was nervous and checking on its location and status. (He might also have been waiting for someone to pick it up.) Additionally, if he was intent on killing himself in a suicide attack in the hotel’s Ports of Call restaurant, then having an extra piece of luggage seems out of place, and placing it in the lobby also seems out of place, unless it was for operational security reasons and he was trying to blend in and appear like a typical traveler. The indication is that this piece of luggage, the “square roller”, was a mission critical piece of equipment, and that it might have contained an IED. Additionally, because the van bomb likely targeted first responders at St. Anthony’s shrine, it is reasonable to hypothesize that one of the other bombers might have also set up a double tap bombing.]

 

  1. At 8:45 am, the assailant went back to his hotel room with just his backpack. [Again, this lends credence to the hypothesis that he prepositioned his “square roller” luggage bomb with the porter at the lobby. By this time, it is important to note that the other hotel bombers were just about to begin detonating, and the Taj Samudra bomber was now on a tight schedule.]

 

  1. At 8:48 am, he emerged from his hotel room wearing his backpack and toting his “rectangular roller.” [Since he was intent on killing himself in the Ports of Call restaurant, it is unclear why he brought along this “rectangular roller”. It might have contained a light-weight IED, or he might have discovered his backpack bomb had a problem, and figured he would take all luggage with him to leave no trace of his identity once he at least attempted to detonate in the restaurant, and, failing that, make his getaway in order to self-detonate at another venue. Also, it is important to note that, by this time, his hotel bombing co-conspirators had begun to detonate their bombs.]

 

  1. At 8:50 am, the assailant wandered around the Ports of Call restaurant while on his phone. [This is the point at which the bomber should have detonated his backpack bomb, but something was wrong with his device.]

 

  1. At 8:51 am, he sat in a booth style seat, removed his backpack, and tampered with what was likely his detonator, seemingly attached to the right shoulder strap of his backpack. Then he left the restaurant one minute later with just his backpack, and no roller luggage. [This is yet another indication that he left both rollers with porters in the lobby.]

 

  1. At 8:53 am, the assailant left the hotel wearing his backpack. He was toting the “square roller” himself – which got stuck in the revolving door, and a porter helped him dislodge it – and a second porter brought him his “rectangular roller”, carrying it off the ground in one hand, indicating it was exceedingly light or empty. [To reemphasize, this is an indicator that this particular piece of luggage had contained the backpack bomb earlier in the morning. Also, since the hotel bombs were detonating at other locations in the city, this bomber had to detonate or get off target before the authorities imposed a nationwide lockdown and manhunt.]

 

  1. At 8:54 am, he walked to the street, wearing his backpack, toting the “square roller” behind him in his left hand, and carrying the “rectangular roller” in his right hand, off the ground as the porter did. Once on the street, an auto rickshaw (aka, tuk-tuk) picked him up, and he proceeded to carry out his mission at the New Tropical Inn guest house in a suburb 30 minutes south at 1:30 pm later that day. That blast killed two hotel guests and severely damaged the building.

Sources and further reading:

‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: Investigators,” The Economic Times, 22 May 2019.

In the elevator with her children… and a suicide bomber: Mother unwittingly stands next to Sri Lanka terrorist whose bomb failed to go off – before he sits next to diners equally unaware they’ve cheated death,” Daily Mail, 2 May 2019.

Sri Lanka: Van ‘containing three bombs’ explodes and 87 bomb detonators found day after attacks kill 290,” iNews, 22 April 2019.

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