by Ishaal Zehra 28 May 2019
Sri Lanka has ramped up security nationwide as fears grow for its minority Muslims could face severe religious violence in the worst turmoil erupted after Easter bombings occurred this April. The authorities were forced to block Facebook and WhatsApp to stop people inciting further violence and imposed curfew after aggressive attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses by mobs.
An eyewitness at a ransacked mosque said that a crowd of about 1,300 people surged into the mosque destroying and burning Korans, breaking every glass window and door and urinating in the water storage from which Muslims used to take ablution. In a separate account, several dozen people threw stones at mosques and Muslim-owned stores and a man was beaten in the Christian-majority town of Chilaw on the west coast in a dispute that started on Facebook.
These incidents came just three weeks after the deadly Easter Sunday attacks across the island nation that claimed the life of at least 359 people while injuring over 500. The near-simultaneous bombings at three churches and three luxury hotels around Batticaloa, Colombo, and Negombo on the Easter day is believed to be one of the most meticulously planned, précised terrorist attack in recent years. The Sri Lankan government has named the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim as the organizations behind the attack, while the Islamic State (IS) itself has claimed responsibility. Both accounts correlate as Zohran Hashim, the leader of the NTJ allegedly grown links with the IS in recent times.
The situation in Sri Lanka has now calmed down though, but the factors behind this destructive episode with far-reaching consequences call for an honest exploration of what happened on that fateful Easter day while tracking down the roots and causes. While the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, the real story is a bit more complicated than that.
There were serious lapses on the part of defense officials, also acknowledged by the Sri Lankan president who further corroborated to the intelligence sections report which is confident of some international terror group linkages to these local terrorists. Reports reveal that the Sri Lankan government had received tip-offs from Indian intelligence of an imminent jihadi attack. While New York Times asserts that Indian intelligence officials warned their Sri Lankan counterparts hours before the attack, the CNN report reveals that Indian intelligence services had passed on “unusually specific” information in the weeks before the attacks. Also, three different sources told Reuters that Sri Lankan intelligence officials had been warned hours earlier by India that attacks by Islamists were imminent. It was not clear though what action, if any, was taken.
Due to NTJ’s foreign links, it is highly likely that a foreign entity, most likely a foreign state or state intelligence agency was behind the attacks and that the men on the ground who have been captured are merely pawns in a much larger and even more dangerous game, observed Adam Garrie soon after the tragedy. After a month of Investigations, it was revealed that the bombers used “Mother of Satan” explosives which bear IS mark as a favorite. This is a new sign of foreign involvement. Detectives said local terrorists manufactured the back-pack bombs used in the attacks with IS expertise.
In a photo released by IS in which it claimed responsibility for the blasts, Zohran was seen standing among few other masked men standing against the backdrop of IS flag. This attack highlights the outreach of IS and its leader Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi, whose Iraqi identity has never been confirmed and his family background also unknown, is regarded as a top-level agent of anti-Islamic forces wrecking the world under the guise of Islam. Being an Al-Qaeda militant leader for few years before carving out his violent group known for serving the objectives of powers defaming Islam, he is a person with dubious character, thus making the Daesh agenda more dubious. The question is how Zahran got involved with the Daesh?
Zahran Hashim, the Sri Lankan who led those fateful attacks was known to have traveled to India in the months before he became one of the suicide bombers. Sri Lankan Army chief Senanayake revealed that Hashim had traveled to Tamil Nadu state in southern India and been in contact with IS there. It is interesting to note that all of Zahran’s videos are uploaded from India. Adam Garrie also supports the idea of Indo Centric terror networks.
An exclusive report by The Hindu newspaper says that Zahran, the mastermind behind Sri Lanka’s multiple terror attacks was trained in India. Quoting a Sri Lankan top military source, the report claims that suspected terror leader Zahran Hashim spent “substantial time” training in “southern India.” It was subsequently reported that other attackers who participated in the April massacre in Sri Lanka had spent a great deal of time in India too. Notably, it has been reported by journalists that the group was trained in Chennai in Tamil Nadu – the same location where LTTE had previously trained.
For those who do not know LTTE, the group was founded in 1976 to wage a terrorist campaign in the name of Sri Lanka’s Hindu Tamils. It is well documented in history how India, through its intelligence agency, R&AW provided arms, training, and monetary support to the LTTE. The terror group was finally defeated in 2009, claiming the lives of more than 80,000 people in a decades-long conflict. After ten years, this current pattern of terrorism in South Asia with visible Indian imprints is worrisome.
Today, when the Sri Lankan Catholics have marked one month since bombings in a tearful ceremony, we need to understand that terrorism is real and flourishing through the societies where social injustice and religious repression are rampant. Letting our defenses down or neglecting the social and psychological determinants of extremism risks disastrous consequences.
Also, irresponsible commentary on these heinous acts of terrorism continues to peddle a uniquely Islamophobic line without actually taking into account the fact that while Sri Lanka has been the victim of terrorism for decades, there has never been an Islamist terrorist incident in the country’s history. Instead, Sri Lanka has suffered at the hands of Hindu majority LTTE and the secular far-left JVP. It may also be taken into account that these violent attacks took place just days before the prominent Belt and Road Forum in Beijing where Sri Lanka supposedly was about to play a significant role. The simultaneity is too striking to ignore.