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Accused Sri Lankan attack leader preached 'slaughter'

Accused Sri Lankan attack leader preached 'slaughter'
© Carl Court/Getty Images

The man accused of masterminding a deadly series of terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday allegedly preached online about the slaughter of "people who need to be killed."

The New York Times reported Thursday that Zahran Hashim, a radical Sri Lankan Muslim preacher known online for fiery sermons, was accused of being behind Sunday's attack that killed more than 250 people.

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Police said Thursday, according to the Times, that they believe Hashim was one of two suicide bombers to successfully detonate their devices at the popular Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo, a major tourist spot that was one of several locations struck by bombings on Sunday.

One former Sri Lankan politician told the Times that Hashim built a following online by criticizing religious and political leaders in the country for not adhering to Islam, and the newspaper reported that Sri Lanka's Muslim community was largely ignored when it reported his threats to authorities.

“He would criticize big shots, he would criticize anybody,” Ahamed Lebbe Marzook, a Muslim, told the Times. “People were attracted to his lack of fear.”

Before Sunday's attack, Hashim's group was reportedly known for defacing the statues of Buddha scattered around the country by the country's Buddhist majority population. Muslims make up about 9.7 percent of the population, behind both Buddhists and Hindus.

“He was influential, very attractive, very smart in his speeches, even though what he was saying about jihad was crazy,” Marzook added. “We all underestimated him. We never thought he would do what he said.”