There’s a video of the exact moment Inshaf Ibrahim decided to abandon his life as a rich young man and turn into a mass murderer. In one sense, he had made up his mind weeks earlier, which was why he was loitering in the Cinnamon Grand hotel’s breakfast buffet on Easter Sunday last year in Colombo, strapped into a knapsack of explosives. Once he arrived, though, he appeared to dither. Later, investigators picked him out of CCTV footage, standing near a vacant table, wearing a baseball cap and a T-shirt, his back to the camera. In the footage, he moves like a perplexed penguin. Two steps forward, half a step back, a turn, another turn: a choreography of hesitation. Perhaps he is reconsidering? But no, the investigators concluded; he is waiting for more people to come in. Finally, a microsecond of stillness, arms heavy by his side; then his hands reach toward the front of his waist, and the film goes dark.
The restaurant, Taprobane, was one level below the lobby, so when a hotel employee on the same floor heard the muffled boom, he thought something must have fallen into the dining room, possibly a chandelier. When he got closer to the scene, he saw smoke and people carrying out bodies. He asked what happened, but no one had time to talk. A fire, he figured. Then he entered the restaurant, saw the devastation and revised his guess: gas explosion. On his phone, he has a video he shot: the glass windows overlooking the garden blown out, ceiling panels ripped away, the omelet stations pulverized. “Some of the foreign guests were bigger than us, so we had to put them onto banquet tables and carry them out, four to a table,” he told me.