Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Ironically, on 5 April 1942 was the Easter Sunday Raid or Battle of Ceylon was an air attack by the aircraft carrier of the Japanese Navy against Colombo in the South East Asian Theatre of World War II followed by a raid on Trincomalee a few days later to disrupt British Commonwealth war effort.
Sadly, after 77 years on the Easter Sunday on 21 April 2019, Sri Lanka was again rocked by the multiple IED Blasts causing worldwide shock, immense death killing 290 including 35 foreigners (4 Indians), injuring over 500 and massive destruction of property. The targets were the minority Christians, attending Mass Easter services in the Saint Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade, Saint Sabastian Church and Negombo, Zion Church Batticaloa and 3 five star luxurious beachside hotels Shangri- La, Colombo, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury all packed with the foreigners for the breakfast while the 4 Police personnel were slained in the Guest House in Dematagoda, generating worldwide condemnation. 24 suspects have been arrested in connection to the attacks while the government confirmed involvement of Mohammed Zahran, the leader of the Muslim radical Wahhabi group National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ) was reported to be one of the Easter Sunday bombers. As early as 11 April 2019 the Police Chief had issued an alert relying a foreign intelligence report that suicide bombers affiliated with the NTJ, who had an year earlier vandalized Buddhist statues, was planning to attack prominent churches and the Indian High Commission in Colombo, but the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday that he and other top government officials had not been informed of the threat, and that “we must look into why adequate precautions were not taken.”
Not much is known about the group but reports suggest the radical Islamist group was formed in Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated town in eastern Sri Lanka, in 2014. The group was not associated with any mass fatality attack in the past, but promotes Islamist terrorist ideology and Islamic State and secretly may have gained international Jihadi support.
Also read Has the Second Global Terror Wave Made an Entry in South Asia? Updated. Regional and national ideologies and groups have dominated terrorism in South Asia, Easter attacks in Sri Lanka could mark the entry of global terrorism in the region.
And Read World Leaders React to Sri Lanka Explosions. Several world and religious leaders condemned the explosions on Easter at Sri Lankan churches and hotels that killed scores of people.
Likewise, on 27 March 2016, again an Easter Sunday, at least 75 people were killed and over 340 injured in a suicide bombing attack at Gulshan Park in targeting Christians celebrating Easter. The Pakistani Talibani group Jamaat-ul Ahrar claimed the responsibility for this dastardly attack that led to international condemnation.
Similarly, on the night of 1 July 2016, in Bangladesh, five militants took hostages and opened fire on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan Thana in Dacca killing 29 people including 20 hostages (18 foreigners and 2 locals), 2 police officers, 5 gunmen, and 2 bakery staff.
In the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks( 26/11), 10 terrorists of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), based in Pakistan, carried out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai that drew widespread global condemnation, killing at least 174 people, including 9 attackers, and more than 300 were wounded.
Although the suicide bombing attacks were originated by the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) decades ago, the latest Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka indicate that identified perpetrators belong to radical Islamist Jihadist Wahhabi group like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and Al-Qaeda or NTJ rather than the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers that waged a long bloody war against the government from 1983 to 2009. But, there are Tamil Christians within the LTTE fold, therefore, the modus operandi of the attack needles upon jihadist group NTJ possibly supported by the ISIS to avenge New Zealand Mosque attack. While Indian officials and security experts were engaged in brainstorming on motive and group behind the attack in the neighbouring Sri Lanka, several other conspiracy theories are doing rounds including the LeT spreading its wing in the island country. Some reports suggest brewing Buddhist-Christian tensions have been simmering over reports of conversion and the attack could be a fall out of that. Others allege that Opposition could be behind to malign the government.
The Portuguese brought Roman Catholicism to island nation in 1505. With passing of time, Catholicism has a strong cultural presence in the country and nearly 7% of the population of the country is Roman Catholic. Sri Lanka’s Protestant community is quite small, constituting only 1% of Sri Lanka’s population which like Catholicism, was brought through colonialism of Dutch traders and Protestant missionaries who worked in Sri Lanka’s coastal Tamil speaking areas. In 1962, there was an attempted Coup by both Catholic and Protestant Sri Lankan Army Officers to overthrow the government of then Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike, who disliked increasing Buddhist presence in the Sri Lankan Army.
In the recent years there is rise of Buddhist militancy in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force) targeting Christians and demand apology from Pope for the Christian atrocities.
The Sri Lankan government fought for 30 years civil war against Tamil separatism, culminating in the bloody suppression of the Tamil Tigers’ push for the Tamil Elam antagonizing Tamils. The attacks may have also come against the backdrop of a sharp increase in the persecution of Christian minorities across the Middle East and south Asia while the relations amongst Hindus- Buddhists- Muslims- Christians, have not always been easy and are full of mistrust.
There are first hand reports that large numbers of Rohingyas have illegally entered in Sri Lanka from Myanmar and now living in ghettos and temporary camps in Sri Lanka. The Rohingyas are a largely Muslim ethnic minority concentrated in Myanmar’s Arakan State. They make up about 3% of the population in a country where Buddhists constitute nearly 90%. With the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar, Sri Lanka on humanitarian grounds and to earn international goodwill started accepting and protecting Rohingya refugees by providing temporary asylum. Sri Lankan Navy often rescues Rohingyas as per the country’s policy. However, with the growing number of Rohingya refugees in the Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India highlights the absence of political will and national policy in these countries to deal humanely with asylum-seekers and integrate refugees vis-à-vis national security, demographic and financial constraints. These uprooted, unemployed starving Muslim refugees are the ideal material for any Jihadist outfit for terrorist operations often provided shelter and training by the hardcore NTJ. The modus operandi used on Sunday Sri Lankan attacks bear a close resemblance to the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, where Pakistan based, trained and supported LeT jihadists launched a coordinated assault on hotels, cafes and a hospital.
While the investigation are on and too early to be completed, ensuring national security, intelligence failure and galvanizing ethnic minorities in the main national stream and good governance are the prime casualties. Needless to say, ethnic violence in the South Asia, Europe, North and South Americas stem from the Muslim migration from Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Congo, Central African Republic and the likes that are mostly war and insurgency torn nations would continue en mass creating humanitarian issues, ethnic violence, terror attacks, national and international security and poor governance in the countries where they take refuge. Islam propagates migration or ‘hizrat’ for better living opportunities and to spread Islam. But for the preservation of the national security, religious and cultural unity, development, equal opportunities to sons of the soils, humanitarian issues, good governance; the large scale migration or hizrat of the Muslims to other nation states is causing Islamophobia meaning the set of discourses, behaviours and structures which express feelings of anxiety, fear, hostility and rejection towards Muslim migration while the immediate requirement for Sri Lanka is to get back quickly on its feet, overcome grief, rehabilitation, eradication of terrorism and mercifully the international community especially the US, Israel and India have offered all support to the grieving nation.
Immediately as we go to press, there are a few lessons, all nations need to learn. Intelligence disseminated by the Police Chief as back as 11 Apr 2019 indicated failure to take action on real time actionable inputs. So intelligence as always in such terrorist attacks is the first casualty. But there is lot to learn by as as within hours many suspects have been arrested. While religion of the arrested suspects has been announced, their names have not been announced.'We do not want them to become martyrs' says the island's police chief. This also indicates severe capital punishment to the perpetrators of heinous terrorist attacks! Entire country has been placed under dusk to dawn curfew to prevent escape and emergency declared so that terrorists can be tried by military court swiftly and severely punished. Sri Lanka is seeking India's help to activate Coast Guard to apprehend /shoot anyone escaping the island through sea lanes.
Regional and national ideologies and groups have dominated terrorism in South Asia, Easter attacks in Sri Lanka could mark the entry of global terrorism in the region.
Several world and religious leaders condemned the explosions on Easter at Sri Lankan churches and hotels that killed scores of people.
In case you come across any suspicious activity, any suspicious movement or have any information to tell to the Anti-Terror Squad, please take a note of the new ALL INDIA TOLL-FREE Terror Help-line '1090'. Your city's Police or Anti-Terror squad will take action as quickly as possible. Remember that this single number 1090 is valid all over india. This is a toll free number and can be dialled from mobile phones also. Moreover, the identity of the caller will be kept a secret.
Please try to make aware each and every citizen of india about this facility.