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Strategic dimensions of Sri Lanka Jihadi attacks; By Col. R. Hariharan VSM(Retd.)

Image courtesy: India Today

Article No. 31/2019

Courtesy: AAKROSH Asian Journal of Terrorism & Internal Conflicts

INTRODUCTION

Gruesome serial suicide attacks by local radical Islamic outfit – National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) targeting three churches and three luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 in Sri Lanka killing 258 people and injuring over 500 has left the country in disarray. People were shocked when they came to know that the government failed to prevent the attacks though Sri Lanka had received information from India 12 days in advance about terrorist plans to carry out the attack on Easter Day.

In a video released a week after the attacks, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the elusive chief of the Islamic State (IS), claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka serial blasts.[1]  The IS video said that it was a “small part of the response prepared by the Islamic State” in retaliation for the loss of Baguz, the last IS stronghold in Syria.[2] The IS also released a video of showing seven men said to be the NTJ bombers, swearing allegiance to the terrorist organisation. Only the face of Zahran Hashim, the NTJ leader, was not covered in the video.

President Donald Trump speaking to American troops in February 2019 in Alaska had said the IS was 100% percent defeated.[3] Abu Bakr’s video seems to remind everyone that the IS might be down but not out. As Brookings Blog ‘Order from Chaos’ says though the Caliphate was gone, “the Islamic State is not….As thousands of its surviving fighters disperse, the group has gone underground – for now.”[4]

According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at Kings College, London, report of July 2018, 41,490 people including 32,809 men, 4,761 women and 4,640 children from 80 countries were affiliated to IS. This probably included 39 people from Sri Lanka, 69 from Maldives and about 150 from India earlier reported to have had joined the IS. After the defeat of IS, around 31,000 foreigners were in the process of returning to their countries.[5]

The ICSR researchers had found that at least 7,366 foreigners affiliated with IS had travelled back to their own countries, including 256 women and up to 1,180 children. By June 2018, 3,906 had returned to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, 1,765 to Western Europe, 784 to Eastern Europe, 338 to Central Asia, 308 to South-Eastern Asia, 156 to Southern Asia, 97 to the Americas, Australia and New Zealand and 12 to Sub-Saharan Africa.[6]  South Asian cadres returning home would presumably include Sri Lankans as well, though the government does not appear to have kept track of their return.

According to the UN Security Council’s 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee report which sanctioned the ISIS South Asia Branch on May 14, 2019 for its links with al-Qaeda and involvement in several deadly attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that killed over 150 people, the ISIS South Asia Branch was formed in 2015.  It is also known as the IS in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan ISIL-K, the ISIL Khorasan, and Islamic State’s Khorasan Province and the South Asian Chapter of ISIL.[7]

According to a research study of Pakistan Institute of Conflict and Security Studies in October 2018 quoted by Pakistan Today,  the ‘Wilayat-e-Hind’ (WeH), a new chapter of the IS “promoting its extremist ideology” was attracting educated youth in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.[8] The Study says Indian citizens, especially from Kerala State, found IS more attractive than any other group and at least 54 people from the state announced joining the IS during the past three years [2016-18].  “Those who have joined the WeH are well educated and most of them are engineers, doctors and MBA degree holders. Indians are mostly joining the Khorasan chapter of Daesh than the core group in Syria or Iraq” it added

The IS group’s website “Amaq” announced the establishment of ‘Wilayat al-Hind’ (IS province in India) after security forces killed IS commander Abu Nader al-Kashmiri in Amshipora area in Shopian in J and K on May 10, 2019.[9]

According to a report of the Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism, which specializes in analyzing IS activities, earlier IS referred  to its franchise in J and K as ‘Islamic State in Jammu Kashmir’ or ISJK, but for the first time IS appears to have casually announced a province in India dubbed WeH. The report said in April 2019 the IS had revealed the name of a new branch in Central Africa, after an attack in Democratic Republic Congo. Similarly in another recent video IS Chief Abu Bakr was seen reading a file title Wilayat Turkiye (Turkey Province).[10]

Despite these reports, there is widespread scepticism about the possibility of IS spreading in South Asia including India. Sufi Islam, the more tolerant and popular face of the religion, is well established among Muslims of the region. They had been resisting the spread of the IS brand of Salafist ideology.[11]

However, the strong presence of Taliban and its armed cadres of Al Qaeda and its clones for three decades in parts of Af-Pak region show the limitations of moderate Islam in stopping the spread of Islamic radicalism. In fact, Salafists have been providing inspiration to perpetuate jihadi extremists, not only in Af-Pak region, but also in India, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka and beyond, even in Southeast Asia.

Moreover, the IS has proved its ideological commitment is more than other Jihadi organisations. Shadi Hamid, Senior Fellow-Foreign Policy, Centre for Middle East Policy, says “ISIS draws on, and draws strength from, ideas that have broad resonance among Muslim-majority populations. They may not agree with ISIS’s interpretation of the caliphate, but the notion of a caliphate—the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition—is a powerful one, even among more secular-minded Muslims.”[12]

The IS strong commitment to its Salafist belief makes it not only a great survivor even in adversity, but also the most dangerous among Jihadi terror groups. As Shadi Hamid says “In this most basic sense, religion—rather than what one might call ideology—matters. ISIS fighters are not only willing to die in a blaze of religious ecstasy; they welcome it, believing that they will be granted direct entry into heaven. It doesn’t particularly matter if this sounds absurd to most people. It’s what they believe.”[13]

It seems the Easter Day attack in Sri Lanka is part of the IS new tactic in action. According to a Reuters report of May 2019 analyzing IS’ new guerilla tactic, the IS has claimed more operations in Nigeria and “dozens of similar attacks” in recent weeks in Afghanistan, Niger, Somalia, Egypt, Pakistan, Chechnya and Sri Lanka.[14] The report adds that in many cases the group published pictures of arms and equipment said to have been collected from soldiers.

Analysis of reports of activities of suspected sympathisers and members of IS chapters and affiliates in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka has shown extensive use of social media to ideologically inspire small number of educated local Muslims, particularly from Kerala State, to join its fold even after IS defeat in Iraq and Syria. According to a June 3, 2019 media report, Rashid Abdullah, head of the Kerala IS module in Afghanistan was killed during bombing by the US forces.[15]

The IS role in the suicide attacks raises a few questions:

  1. Sri Lanka has not fully recovered from three decades of fighting Tamil separatist insurgency that ended a decade ago. In its aftermath, the island nation is mired in political and economic instability. It is struggling to revamp its structural frame work to make it more democratic and accountable to all sections of people. In this murky environment of ethnic, religious and linguistic aberrations, how can Sri Lanka successfully handle IS terrorist threat?

  2. Will the IS threat to Sri Lanka impact South Asia and IOR and the international security environment?

TRANSFORMATION OF ISLAMIC RADICALISM

Sri Lanka’s investigations after the blast have followed two streams: investigation by law enforcement agencies and the parliamentary select committee (PSC) deliberations and a smaller presidential inquiry to look at systemic failure and individual accountability for the failure. Both lines of investigation have unraveled socio-political aberrations that encouraged, if not condoned, the evolution of NTJ as a hate spouting radical Islamic outfit and its transformation into an IS clone. It has also revealed the strong influence of radical Thowheed ideology between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka on the one hand and the role of IS sympathisers in India and other countries in transforming NTJ into an active IS-inspired outfit.

The Hindu’s Colombo correspondent Meera Srinivasan’s detailed report on the month-long investigations by Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) into the Easter Day attacks, presents interesting details on how the network of Jihadi extremists was formed and ultimately carried out the attacks.[16]

In all, nine extremists including a woman in the age group of 20 to 30 were involved. They belonged to the NTJ and the less ‘formal’ Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI) which mostly operated through social media. Apparently they were mentored by Zahran Hashim (33), a radical preacher, belonging to Kattankudy in Batticaloa district of Eastern province. He was attracted to the creed of Thowheed – meaning “oneness of God” – monotheism which is central to Islam and decries praying at the tomb of Islamic saints (dargah) which is common among Sufis, the more tolerant majority among Muslims in Sri Lanka.

The Hindu article also reveals details of international IS linkages of some of the suicide bombers. Typical is the case of Abdul Latheef Jameel Mohammed, one of the suicide bombers killed in the attack. The ‘normal’ youngster pursued aeronautical engineering at Kingston University in London (2006-07) and later went to Melbourne to pursue post-graduation. He left Australia in 2013 and probably made a failed attempt to go to Syria as he could go only up to Turkey. In 2014, he “returned to Sri Lanka a different man” according to his sister quoted in the media.

In Australia, the police had noted Jameel’s terrorist leanings based on the evidence linking him to the well known Australian IS recruiter Neil Prakash.[17]  However, some others believe Jameel was radicalized in the UK where he met Anjem Choudary, the radical Islamist preacher and UN listed IS terrorist, convicted in Britain for inviting support for the IS. According to investigators, Jameel returned to Sri Lanka in 2014 after a failed attempt to reach Syria.

Investigations have revealed that P Jainul Abideen (popularly known as PJ), a powerful Tamil Nadu fundamentalist preacher was instrumental in influencing Zahran’s and helping the spread of the Thowheed movement in Sri Lanka.  Initially PJ was associated with the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TNMMK), a politico-religious organisation formed in 1995. However, he fell out with the TNMMK due to political and radical theological   differences and formed the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ) in 2004. Since then TNTJ had been propagating the Thowheed creed through preaching and carrying out social work and disaster relief.

Jainul Abideen’s preaching influenced not only Zahran Hashim but also two Sri Lankan Muslims, Abdhur Razik and Rasmin, who came in touch with him. They formed the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ) in 2005. However, local Muslims in Sri Lanka found Abideen’s fundamentalist views unacceptable and pressurised Sri Lanka government to deport him when he came to preach in Sri Lanka. Moderate elements among Thawheed followers broke away to form Ceylon Thowheed Jamath (CTJ). Again in 2015, when the SLTJ invited Abideen to preach in Sri Lanka, powerful members of the Muslim community fearing his presence in the island would disturb intra-Muslim and inter-religious harmony aske the government to cancel his visa. This would indicate the links between the Thowheed organizations in the two countries has been going on for over a decade.

Three years ago, moderate sections of Sri Lanka Muslims had raised alarm with Sri Lanka intelligence agencies about Zahran’s extremist activities. A report in Nikkei Asian Review quoted Hilmy Ahamed, Vice President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka “All his [Zahran’s] You Tube videos of hate speech were uploaded in India” from a base he had either in Chennai or Bangalore.[18]

According to Abdul Razik, a leader of the moderate CTJ, during 2018 Zahran Hashim, “has been openly calling for the killing of non-Muslims.” He added that they had asked the intelligence agencies to take down the Facebook page of Zahran “because he was polluting the minds of Sri Lankan Muslims.” The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), the central body of the country’s clerics had also alerted Sri Lanka’s security establishment of the activities of Hashim and his acolytes. But intelligence agencies said it was “better to allow him to have the page so that the authorities could keep an eye on what he was doing.”

The testimony of Moulavi KRM Sahlan, Secretary of the Al Haj Abdul Jawad Alim Waliyullah Trust, before the PSC, laid bare the activities of Zahran.[19] He said his organisation had submitted a written complaint to the President’s office when Zahran called upon Muslims to kill people of other faith in a public speech on March 27, 2017. He said “we had submitted CDs containing these speeches and warned that there could be a disaster if Zahran was allowed to continue in that manner.” He further said copies of  the same complaint was sent to the PM’s office, the offices of ministers of law and order, justice and state defence minister as well as the Attorney General’s Department and the Director, TID.

According to Sahlan, Zahran published a monthly magazine called Towheed from 2013 attacking the Sufis, calling them not true Muslims. He said “in 2016 and 2017, we lodged 11 complaints with the Kattankudy police station against Zahran’s group.” In 2015, in response to Sufi complaints Maj Gen Lal Perera summoned Zahran and warned him to refrain from attacking other religious groups. But the NTJ continued to attack Sufis.

The reason f0r laxity shown by the administration in taking strong action against Zahran could be his group’s work in support of Maithripala Sirisena and against Mahinda Rajapaksa during the 2015 presidential election, as stated in Sahlan’s PSC testimony.

Apparently complaints about Zahran were treated by the police in a routine manner. This is evident from the statement of officer in charge of Kattankudy. He said when Zahran’s brother Rilwan was injured while testing a bomb in March 2018, he was taken to Colombo National Hospital and treated for his injuries. He lost sight in one eye and a few fingers in the accident. Neither anyone checked him on his eight hour journey to Colombo nor the doctor’s treating him made a report to the police.[20]

It is surprising that Zahran Hashim carried out all these activities in spite of many Muslim organisations like the ACJU and prominent Muslim political leaders like Azath Sally warning the security agencies about the NTJ leaders activities.  In fact, the chief of national intelligence Sisira Mendis told the PSC that Zahran’s arrest when he was reported for hate speech could have averted the attacks. “He had come to the attention of authorities before the attacks. Police could have at least detained him for questioning when there were reports against him.”

Former head of the TID Nalaka Silva in his testimony before the PSC  had said the TID had obtained a open warrant from the Colombo court as well as a blue notice from the Interpol in July 2018 to apprehend Zahran. After anti-Muslim riots in Digana in 2018, there was a surge in Zahran’s social media activity and “we saw he was moving from extremism to violent extremism.” He had begun to endorse the activities of IS and was promoting IS videos through his Facebook and websites.[21]

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) in India had been keeping an eye on suspected IS followers in Tamil Nadu and Kerala for some time. [22]Their follow up action upon information from Sri Lanka about social media links of NTJ chief  Zahran with IS sympathisers in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu have led to their arrest. The NIA arrested Mohammed Azharudeen, said to be the mastermind of the IS Tamil Nadu module on June 12, 2019. He was a Facebook friend of Zahran.[23] Sri Lanka police have arrested five Sri Lankans including Mohammad Milhan, one of the NTJ suspects who fled to Dubai after the blast, and brought them back to Colombo.[24]  Similarly, five Sri Lankans with suspected IS links have been brought back to Sri Lanka from Saudi Arabia.

In the follow up action, Kattankudy police have arrested 60 youth “trained” by Zahran Hashim. According to the police the youth were taken on  a free tour ostensibly to hear a “moulavi” in this case Zahran Hashim, who welcomed them at a hideout in Hambantota town and preached his extreme Islamic philosophy. Two persons Milhan and an army veteran Mohideen taught the group how to use handguns, behead people and use handguns in the next two days. They were also shown IS training videos.[25] In the training camp the youth were not allowed to speak to each other. However, at the end of the training they were assigned a nickname to identify each other by that name, apparently to ensure the secrecy.

According to report in Ceylon Today, seven months ago Zahran had purchased 25-acre property for Rs five million close to remote town of Rithihenna for constructing  a training camp. Police searched the area and recovered 25 sticks of gelignite, some cans of ammonium nitrate, used as agricultural fertilizer used in making improvised explosive devices.[26]

Thus security investigations have revealed a few things clearly regarding the Easter Sunday attacks:

  1. The NTJ leader Zahran Hashim was attracted to Thowheed radicalism propagated by Tamil Nadu Thowheed preacher Jainul Abideen. Over a decade long association with like minded people, reinforced his beliefs and provided the ideological moorings for transformation to IS extremism.

  2. Zahran’s links with IS sympathisers in Tamil Nadu and Kerala enabled him to use social media, particularly You Tube, to propagate his doctrine of hate, attract and motivate his followers .

  3. Using the social media, Zahran was able to attract educated young people, who were influenced by the IS recruiters abroad, to join him.

  4. Moderate Muslim leaders were alarmed at the growing influence of Zahran, as his anti-Buddhist activities was disturbing ethnic peace, they had complained to the authorities to shut him up. But influential Muslim politicians did not hesitate to use him to political advantage during elections.

  5. Police and intelligence agencies had treated complaints against Zahran in a routine manner presumably because his group had supported President Sirisena during the presidential election in 2015.

SYSTEMIC FAILURES

Sri Lanka government had been a divided house due to schism between the President and the PM ever since President Sirisena made an abortive attempt to remove PM Wickremesinghe from the government in October 2018.  Apparently this has resulted in lack of coordination between the ministries and different arms of the government.  This was evident when immediately after the attacks, both President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe denied any prior knowledge of the information about the impending attack received from Indian sources and disseminated by the State Intelligence Services (SIS), 12 days before the attack.

After the attacks, the President declared a state of emergency, sacked Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and asked the IG of Police Pujith Jayasundara to resign for their failure to prevent the attacks. The IG refused to do so and was sidestepped by posting another police officer in his place. After some administrative hiccup NTJ and TMI were proscribed.  The President also appointed a presidential inquiry into the attacks. The SIS chief Sisira Mendis, resigned after the attack on health reasons.

The controversy over Karu  Jayasuriya, speaker of the parliament’s call for a PSC to probe the attacks delayed its start by five weeks.  The move to constitute the PSC was opposed not only by the President, but also the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Joint Opposition, on grounds of compromise of national security. The President said he would not allow intelligence officers to testify before the Committee.

However, testimonies made by former Defence Secretary Fernando, sacked IG Jayasundara and the former SIS chief Mendis have revealed serious gaps in communication and coordination between the SIS and other security arms of the government though all of them functioned under the President.

Former defence secretary Fernando in his testimony said he was a ‘helpless’ Defence Secretary who had to wait for weeks to get an appointment with the President. In his testimony, Mendis said that though he had briefed the defence secretary on the impending terrorist attack, the National Security Council (NSC) had not met.

He said the last NSC meeting was held on February 19, 2019, two months before the attack, implying that if it had been held the NSC could have taken measures to avert it. Mendis informed the IGP in a letter giving the information about the plans for the attack and follow up action as advised by the defence secretary. Mendis further added that the impending attack was not even discussed at regular intelligence coordinating meeting attended by the defence secretary, the three service chiefs and IG Jayasundara.[27]

The suspended IG Jayasundara filed a complaint before the Supreme Court accusing President Sirisena of failing to prevent the Easter bombings.[28]  In his complaint, Jayasundara said he had been sidelined by the President since the political rift between the President and PM Wickremesinghe in October 2018. He further added that he refused a diplomatic post offered to him if he agreed to step down, as he was not responsible for “the catastrophic intelligence failure.”

He also added that the SIS which reports directly to the President wanted the TID to stop all inquiries into extremist Muslim factions including NTJ, which was involved in the Easter Sunday bombings.

President Sirisena who is also defence minister, issued a statement refuting Mendis’ testimony and said he held NSC meetings twice a week. It is significant the PM was not invited to participate in the NSC meetings. The President said he met the national police chief and his top brass 13 days before the Easter Sunday attacks and no officer raised warnings received from India. Overall, the President’s handling of national security was presented in poor light by the testimonies.

It is evident everyone in the bureaucratic chain had treated the information about the planned attack without the urgency it deserved. The newly appointed Defence Secretary General Shantha Kottegoda told the PSC that the suicide bombings could have been averted had the extremist organizations been proscribed on the basis of intelligence reports received in 2014.

It is evident the intelligence structure that helped the country to successfully defeated powerful LTTE insurgents a decade ago does not exist now.  This is not surprising as a number of cases of misuse of intelligence and police resources to serve personal and political ends during President Mahinda Rajapaksa rule are now pending in various stages of prosecution.

In an apparently well organized move, Sinhala hardliners seemed to have used the public outrage in the wake of the blasts to fan anti-Muslim hate campaign. Anti-Muslim backlash broke out a week after the Easter Day attacks mobs brought in trucks from other places attacked Muslim owned shops and houses in three towns in Northwestern province while police watched on helplessly.

Strident demand was made for removal of Muslim governors Azath Salley and MLAM Hizbullah and cabinet minister Rishad Bathiudeen for alleged support to the NTJ even though the allegations were not borne out by evidence. After a Buddhist monk Athurelive Rathana Thero, went on indefinite fast in Kandy with the demand and thousands of people marched in support, the two Muslim governors and nine ministers resigned en masse. A lot of uneasiness prevails among Muslims as they feel the security measures taken after the attacks are being used to curb normal life of Muslims in the name of fighting extremism.

In these circumstances, President Sirisena sent a wrong message by pardoning the well known Muslim baiter Gnanasara Thera, leader of the Buddhist fringe group Bodhu Bala Sena, who was serving a six year sentence for contempt of court.  The prelate of Asgiriya Chapter, one of the most influential Buddhist orders in the country, addressing a temple ceremony in Kandy accused Muslims of destroying the country and called for a boycott of Muslim run shops and businesses. He said “don’t eat from those [Muslim owned] shops.” Except for finance minister Mangala Samaraweera, who came down heavily on the prelate for his comments against Muslims and urged ‘true Buddhists’ to unite against “Talibanisation” of the religion, other political leaders have been muted in their response.

This has kindled a feeling of déjà vu among liberal segments and civil society that political priorities are once again overtaking the urgent need for ethnic and religious amity in Sri Lanka. This does not augur well for the country as it provides space for the spread of IS extremism.

INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION

PM Narendra Modi was the first foreign leader to visit Sri Lanka after the deadly Easter Day terror attacks at the start of his second tenure. His trip indicated India’s show of solidarity with Sri Lanka in times of distress and assured  the neighbourhood will continue to be India’s foreign policy priority. During his brief visit, PM Modi held discussions with all the main actors including the President, the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition and also addressed the Indian community. He met with President Sirisena and the two sides agreed that terrorism is a “joint threat” that needs collective and focussed action.  Translating the “jointness” is likely to be the priority of both countries in their fight against terrorism.

In this context, the signing of Sri Lanka, Japan and India agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port in May 2018 assumes significance as the countries had been negotiating the deal since last year. The ECT is located some 3 km away from the China-backed international financial city, known popularly as “port city”, being built on reclaimed land on Colombo’s sea front.

Intelligence and security personnel from India, the US and UK have reached Sri Lanka to help the investigation into the IS inspired terrorist strike. According to a Daily Mirror columnist, China perhaps unnerved by the US and UK security agents landing in Sri Lanka in the wake of the blasts, sent “ a message for President Sirisena from Chinese President Xi Jinping asking him to visit Beijing. When he  arrived in Beijing, President Xi chaired a joint Sri Lanka-China bilateral meeting on security co-operation with Colombo. One of the key decisions taken was on “strengthening co-operation in the defence sector and sharing intelligence between Sri Lanka and China” — an aspect that has been incorporated into the new defence agreement. President Sirisena briefed the meeting on the Easter Sunday massacres carried out by pro-IS Muslim extremist groups.”

According to the article, before he left Colombo, President Sirisena explained that Sri Lanka did not have the technological expertise and equipment “to trace persons who were promoting terrorism and spreading false information. President Xi agreed to provide both expertise and equipment. He will also send a technical team to Sri Lanka to train personnel.” President Sirisena also agreed to a government-to-government deal for hi-tech surveillance of Colombo City on the lines of “smart cities.” The article said this will also cover the Hambantota Port and the Colombo Port City, both constructed with heavy Chinese funding.

CONCLUSION

To summarise, Sri Lanka is probably now part of IS’ decentralized Syria centric operations to expand its footprint into South Asia using local affiliates. South Asian countries, particularly India and Bangladesh, had been facing the threat of Pakistan-supported Jihadi terrorist groups for long and are highly vulnerable to any escalation of Jihadi threat.

Investigations carried out in the wake of Sri Lanka suicide bombings show that attacks must have been planned well in advance to inflict maximum casualties. The IS modules in Kerala and Tamil Nadu seem to have been using the social media actively in tandem with the NTJ leader Zahran in propagating IS radicalism in both countries. Action to dismantle such threat would require not only greater coordination and cooperation between security agencies of both countries but also policy convergence. Sri Lanka would also require technology support from India in fighting terrorist threat.

Sri Lanka was probably selected because there is around 10 percent Muslim population with wide exposure to radical Wahhabi philosophy at home and among expatriates working in Gulf countries. Apart from reasons of real politick, Sri Lanka had probably been soft pedaling on the issue of Islamic extremism  for political reasons as major parties are wooing Muslim minority for support. Collectively these factors have enabled the NTJ to carry out its suicide bombings successfully.

Under these circumstances, there is an urgent need for political parties to curb their tendency to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments through  Sinhala nationalist fringe elements.  The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo will have to redeem their credibility which has been tarnished by their tardy handling of national security apparatus that led to the Easter Day attacks. This has caused enormous damage to the image of the country. They will also have to push through the reforms they had promised during the run up to the elections, including the drafting of a new constitution that meets the aspirations of everyone and upgrading of accountability in governance including rule of law and human rights.

The IOR and as a corollary Sri Lanka has become the focus of the  ever increasing global power play between China and the US and its allies as well as India, the dominant naval power in the region. Escalation of IS-inspired terrorist threat in Sri Lanka could affect IOR.  Greater cooperation in enforcing counter terrorism measures among not only Sri Lanka, India, China and the US and its allies, but also other Indian Ocean Rim Countries, has now become a necessity to discourage further growth of terrorist threat.

Notes & References

[1] The term Islamic State used in this article refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State in Levant (ISIL) and Daesh in Arabic

[2] Abu Bakr al Baghdadi news, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/topics/people/abu-bakr-al-baghdadi.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/28/world/middleeast/trump-isis-territory.html

[4] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/06/25/where-will-the-islamic-state-go-next/

[5]  International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation report, July 18, 2018  https://icsr.info/our-work/foreign-fighters-and-the-returnee-threat/

[6] How many IS foreign fighters are left in Iraq and Syria https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-47286935

[7] ‘ISIS’ South Asia Branch comes under UN radar; sanctioned’, May 16, 2019, One India web news

https://www.oneindia.com/india/isis-south-asia-branch-comes-under-un-radar-sanctions-imposed-2891711.html?utm_medium=Desktop&utm_source=OI-EN&utm_campaign=Topic-Article

[8] Pakistan and India under new IS threat: Wilayat-e-Hind study  https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/10/20/pakistan-india-under-new-is-threat-wilayat-e-hind-study/

[9] IS establishes Wilayat al-Hind after clashes in Kashmir. Iraq News, May 11, 2019 https://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/is-announce-establishing-wilayat-al-hind/

[10]  IS establishes Wilayat al-Hind after clashes in Kashmir. Iraq News, May 11, 2019 https://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/is-announce-establishing-wilayat-al-hind/

[11] Bhopinder Singh, ‘Baloney of ISIS Province’ June 7, 2019, The Statesman  https://thestatesman.com

[12] Shadi Hamid, ‘The Root of the Islamic State’s Appeal’ October 31, 2014   https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-roots-of-the-islamic-states-appeal/

[13] Shadi Hamid, ‘The Root of the Islamic State’s Appeal’ October 31, 2014   https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-roots-of-the-islamic-states-appeal/

[14] Instructions from headquarters: Islamic State’s new guerrilla manual,

May 24, 2019, Reuters  https://in.reuters.com/article/security-islamic-state/instructions-from-headquarters-islamic-states-new-guerrilla-manual-idINKCN1SU18J

[15] ‘Kerala ISIS module head killed in Afghanistan’ June 3, 2019 https://www.oneindia.com

[16] Meera Srinivasan, ‘The inside story  of the 9 suicide bombers behind Sri Lanka’s savage Easter attacks’, 25 May 2019 The Hindu

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/the-inside-story-of-the-9-suicide-bombers-behind-sri-lankas-savage-easter-attacks/article27236216.ece?homepage=true

[17] Neil Christopher Prakash (known as Abu Khaled al-Cambodi in the IS) whose Australian citizenship was revoked in December 2018 for his role as an active member of the IS. Member. In March 2019, Prakash was convicted in a Turkish court of membership in a terrorist organisation. He is serving a six year sentence in prison. ‘Neil Prakash: Australian Jihadist stripped of citizenship’ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-46706710

[18] Marwaan Macan-Markar, ‘Sri Lanka’s radicalized Muslims have long ties to Islamic State’ April 24, 2019, Nikkei Asian Review https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Sri-Lanka-s-radicalized-Muslims-have-long-ties-to-Islamic-State

[19] When Zahran publicly called upon Muslims to kill people of other faiths’ June 18, 2019  http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/64710

[20]  ‘Rich brothers recruited via Facebook to fund Sri Lanka attacks, cops say,’ CBS News, May 3, 2019 https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sri-lanka-bombings-mastermind-zahran-hashi-recruited-brothers-via-facebook-police-say/

[21] Chandani Kirinde ‘Former TID Head reveals Zahran had both open warrant and Interpol blue notice’ May 5, 2019 Daily FT  http://www.ft.lk/front-page/Former-TID-Head-reveals-Zahran-had-both-open-warrant-and-Interpol-blue-notice/44-679457

[22] NIA searches at 3 places in Kerala as part of probe into ISIS module, April 28, 2019, Economic Times https//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/69083023.cms?from=mdr&utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

[23] ‘NIA arrest alleged mastermind of Easter Sunday bombings’ June 13, 2019  http://www.themorning.lk/nia

[24] ‘Easter Sunday attack: Five arrested in Dubai brought back to SL’, June 14, 2019 Daily News  http://www.dailynews.lk/2019/06/14/local/188396/easter-sunday-attack-five-arrested-dubai-brought-sl

[25] Sulochana Ramiah, ‘Zaharan gave assault training to youth’ 19 May 2019, Ceylon Today http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print-edition/5/print-more/31682

[26]Zaharan’s planned training camp in Rithithenna’ 26 May 2019, Ceylon Today, http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print-edition/5/print-more/31527

[27] ‘Easter carnage PSC: NSC didn’t meet till April 21 attacks’ May 29, 2019 The Island www.island.lk

[28] Pujith petitions supreme court…SIS blocked TID probes into ISIS factions, June 3, 2019 AFP , Ceylon Today http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print-edition/2/print-more/32186

(Col. R. Hariharan, a retired MI specialist on South Asia and terrorism, served as the head of Intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 90. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies, South Asia Analysis Group and the International Law and Strategic Analysis Institute, Chennai. Email: haridirect@gmail.com Blog: https://col.hariharan.info )

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