Muhsmmad Serajuddin in Karachi
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 Whats App to stop people inciting further violence and imposed curfew after aggressive attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses by mobs.
Meanwhile, in an anti-muslim hatred mosques were attacked destroying stone pelting crowd ransacked Muslim-owned stores and a Muslim man was beaten in the Christian-majority town of Chilaw on the west coast in a dispute that started on Facebook.
These attacks on Muslims came 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.
Situation in Sri Lanka has now calmed down though, but the factors behind this destructive episode with far reaching consequences calls 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.
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.
Sri Lankan intelligence has named the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks as Moulvi Zahran Hashim, an extremist local cleric who incited his followers to violence with fiery sermons on his social media channels.
Hilmy Ahamed, vice-president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said he had gone to local authorities with concerns about Hashim three years ago.
“This person was a loner and he had radicalized young people in the guise of conducting Koran classes,” he told AFP.
“But nobody thought these people were capable of carrying out an attack of such magnitude.”
Ahamed said Hashim, who has also gone by the names Mohamed Zahran and Moulavi Hashim, was around 40 years old and from the east coast region of Batticaloa.
The only one of the attacks on Sunday to hit outside of the Colombo area was at the Zion Church in Batticaloa.
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 counter parts 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,.
After a month of Investigations it was revealed that the bombers used “Mother of Satan” explosives which bears IS mark as a favorite. This is a new sign of foreign involvement. Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the attacks were manufactured by local terrorists 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 own 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 travelled to India in the months before he became one of the suicide bombers. Sri Lankan Army chief Senanayake revealed that Hashim had travelled 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.
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.
LTTE, the Tamil armed 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 10 years this fresh pattern of terrorism in South Asia with visible Indian imprints is worrisome.
Today, in a different branding, terrorism is 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 continue to peddle a uniquely Islamophobic line without actually taking into account the fact that whilst 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 major role. The simultaneity is too striking to ignore.
Muhsmmad Serajuddin in Karachi