Sri Lankan firefighters stand in the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. (ERANGA JAYAWARDENA / AP PHOTO)
The massacres targeting three very popular Roman Catholic churches in Sri Lanka along with three luxury hotels within the “high security zone” in Colombo were a sophisticated, well planned and logistically well supported execution that targeted people in large numbers.
The ban of extremist groups of National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI) on April 27 by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is decisive. Sri Lankan intelligence sources have cited the groups as suspected to be behind the Easter Sunday explosions which killed over 250 people and injured 500 before Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility.
Details in the confidential document that is now out in the public domain show it was this same NTJ that vandalized Buddha statues in Mawanella in December last year
Reports of explosives-laden vehicles in the city of Colombo and caches of deadly explosives in many places and suspects exchanging fires with police following the massacres indicate the presence of a terrorist organization, perhaps with far more networking capacity than even the Tamil Tigers which tore the nation decades ago.
There was mention of possible armed activity by NTJ after the Mawanella incident when investigations by the police led them to a coconut estate where a cache of explosives were reportedly found.
Yet, there was no serious and proved information to assume this group or any other were involved in armed activity similar to the Tamil Tiger group. There were neither intelligence reports that indicated the existence of a “terrorist group” that could plan and execute a terror attack of the scale of those on April 21 morning.
That raises the question of how a small and rudimentary group, with its leader dead in one of the suicide bombings and few other organizers on the run to avoid arrest, could within a few months suddenly emerge as a very sophisticated, ideologically strong group to produce a team of “suicide bombers” and network a string of ruthless terror attacks.
Whether and how the banned groups are related to IS remains to be discovered.
Details in the confidential document that is now out in the public domain show it was this same NTJ that vandalized Buddha statues in Mawanella in December last year.
The retaliatory attacks on Buddha statues came after Sinhala Buddhist extremist attacks on Muslims, their properties and businesses from June 2014 in Aluthgama and Beruwala to March 2018 in Digana, Kandy. They proved the group was radical in its interpretations of Islamic teachings and was on the run to avoid arrest.
The NTJ group is not the only orthodox, extremist groups in the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.
However, the Muslim community itself has opposed these radical views and has protested against such groups, especially in the Eastern part of the country, as most Muslim organizations condemned these fundamentalists.
Moreover, there are Sinhala Buddhist extremist organizations too that in the past decade challenged the rule of law on aggressive and violent anti-Muslim platforms. These organizations have the advantage of a Sinhala Buddhist “deep state” that came to existence during the 30-year civil war against the Tamil Tiger separatist guerillas.
The accepted assumption in Sri Lanka had been that with the total annihilation of the Tamil Tigers no space was left for future armed terror activities.
Sophisticated “terror” organizations are not known to operate in this manner. Taken together with a Sinhala Buddhist “deep state”, these massacres need a different approach to find answers beyond Sri Lankan “fundamentalism” and religious “extremism”.
The author is a political analyst based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
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