While it's yet to be proved whether Islamic State was directly responsible for the Sri Lankan bombings, experts warn it's a sign Islamist extremism is far from defeated.
The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed at least 321 people and wounded more than 500, were last night claimed by the terror group.
The terror group's official al-Amaq news agency made the claim on its channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram late Tuesday, according to multiple reports.
Some experts have shed doubt on whether Isis was responsible for the attacks, or if the terror network is just using them for the publicity, news.com.au reports.
But regardless, it's a reaffirming sign IS far from defeated.
WAS ISLAMIC STATE REALLY BEHIND THE SRI LANKAN BOMBINGS?
Overnight, an unconfirmed video posted to social media by an affiliated group strongly suggested IS was behind the attacks.
The video, purportedly from Al Ghuraba Media, which is not an official IS channel but is believed to be run by supporters of Isis, featured the chilling message: "This bloody day is our reward to you."
It also showed photos of three of the alleged suicide bombers.
The men are named as Abul Barra, Abul Mukhtar and Abu Ubaida and appear in front of a black IS flag giving the one-finger salute.
Sri Lankan cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the Easter Sunday attackers were aided by an "international network" of terrorists in planning the co-ordinated assaults.
"We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country," Mr Senaratne said.
"There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded."
But terrorism expert and visiting professor at the Australian National University, Clive Williams, told news.com.au he had doubts about the extent to which IS played a role in the Sri Lankan bombings.
"Islamic State will obviously claim credit (for the Sri Lankan bombings), but I'm a bit dubious about the claim," he said. "The picture that they put out showed Zahran Hashim standing at the centre, surrounded by those men with their faces covered. If these guys were all martyred, why would you cover their faces?
"If it did turn out to be organised by Zahran, he would have needed to rely on people capable of putting together sophisticated explosives. I'm not sure how readily available people with those skill sets are in Sri Lanka."
He also noted the suspicious timing of IS taking credit for the attack — two days after it occurred. "You'd have thought if they'd orchestrated it, they'd have all the propaganda ready to go," Prof Williams said.
TERROR GROUP 'IN REBUILDING MODE'
Despite his doubts over their claims, Prof Williams stressed it was misleading to assume IS had been defeated.
He said their taking credit for the attacks was a sign IS is looking for soft targets to focus on — that is, countries that aren't necessarily tied up in geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.
"People tend to think that because they've not been part of the US-led Coalition, or because they've not been actively opposed to Islamic State or al-Qaeda, they won't get attacked," he said. "They tend to forget that they are potentially targets because they have US embassies, Israeli embassies or US military forces. Because they're a bit off the radar, it becomes easier."
He warned similar attacks could take place anywhere in the world, including Australia, stating: "Churches here are as likely to be targeted as churches anywhere else."
He said it was ultimately misleading of any world leaders to claim IS had been defeated. "Clearly an organisation like Islamic State or al-Qaeda simply takes a step back if they've been defeated and redirect their activities," he said. "They're both in rebuilding mode, thinking of the long game. They're thinking of the next 100 years, whereas democracy is usually only focused on the current government."
He said to expect clarification on the origins of the attack over the next few days, noting it was unlikely local jihadist groups like the National Thowheeth Jamaath and the Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim alone had the capabilities of achieving such sophisticated attacks.
WHERE IS ISLAMIC STATE STILL ACTIVE?
There are numerous reports IS is still active in many countries around the world — as shown in the map below:
Take Iraq, for example. In December 2017, the Iraqi government declared victory over IS.
But the BBC recently reported the jihadist group had "substantially evolved into a covert network" and remained active in rural areas.
In Syria, after Donald Trump triumphantly declared IS had been "defeated", it was reported the terror network had been regrouping.
There are several other countries around the world that could still harbour terror attacks, with IS enclaves still active in central and southern Yemen, northern Egypt, Afghanistan and Algeria.
Terrorism expert Dr Rohan Gunaratna said the sophisticated attacks in Sri Lanka showed the terror group was entering "a new phase of global expansion", contrary to claims the group has been thwarted.
"What has happened in Sri Lanka suggests IS is re-emerging to fight the world with a vengeance," Dr Gunaratna wrote.
He said the Sri Lankan Government and its people would need to work hard to keep the country safe from the new phase of IS, urging them to work with countries like Australia that have mapped the group's international links.
"IS has created a deep network in South Asia with nodes in the south of India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The governments of these countries will need to exchange and share intelligence and dismantle the terrorists' support and operational structures."
Likewise, terrorism expert Anne Speckhard told Foreign Policy it was estimated more than half of the 45,000 people who travelled the world to join IS are now home.
She says the terror network targeting soft countries like Sri Lanka is the "wave of the future".
"I think that what our security systems have to really get on top of is that, if you have small groups, that they can mobilise quickly nowadays. It's such an interconnected world, and once they believe this poison, it's very virulent. Because people who are willing to give their lives are extremely dangerous," she said.