By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Colombo, April 23: Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Professor of Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam Centre for International Studies in Singapore, says that the serial bombings in Colombo and two other towns in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, appear to be the handiwork of the Islamic State (IS) in collaboration with its “Sri Lankan branch.”
Dr. Gunaratna, who is the foremost Sri Lankan expert on terrorism and political violence and author of Inside Al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (2003) told this correspondent over the phone from Singapore on Monday: “After the IS was ousted from Iraq and Syria, it branched out to other countries, and has been working in collaboration with local radical Islamic groups in several countries. It has a very significant worldwide network and has a presence in India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.”
According to Dr. Gunaratna, the IS targets Western interests and Christian churches. Giving reasons for this, he said “It is a Western coalition which had ousted the IS from its bases in Iraq and Syria. IS sees Christianity as the ideological underpinning of the Western world.” The IS has been aiding the process of radicalizing the Muslims in various parts of the world including Sri Lanka through various local affiliates, he said.
Dr. Gunaratna pointed out that it is not necessary to radicalize everybody to carry out the activities of the IS. “A small number of radicalized persons is enough to carry out the IS’s designs,” he said. The targets hit by the bombings indicate that the issues are unrelated to local, Sri Lankan communal issues. In Sri Lanka, there is no conflict between Christians and Muslims and Christians and Buddhists for churches to be attacked in this way and that on a day like Easter Sunday.
While there had been communal clashes before, with Buddhist groups attacking Muslims, these were small and localized and never in the Mumbai serial blasts way as the problems in the island had not been so acute. If the blasts were an offshoot of the Buddhist-Muslim conflict, Buddhists temples and institutions would have been attacked but they were not.
However, there is a world-wide conflict between the Christian-West and radical Islam. The conflict manifests itself in attacks on Churches. The recent New Zealand attack against worshipers in a mosque is part of the larger world-wide religious conflict.
The targeting of posh hotels is also significant in as much as hotels like Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury are the Westerners’ favorites in Colombo. These hotels are also well known world-wide enabling the attackers to get maximum publicity for their deeds and for spreading fear among Westerners across the globe.
Police and government sources are not pointing an accusing finger at a resurgent Tamil Tiger (LTTE) group as the Tamil Tigers and the Tamils as a whole, now want to take the help of the Western democracies and UN institutions to secure human rights and post-war justice. They would not incur the wrath of the West by indulging in acts like this at this stage of their struggle.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Gunaratna suspects a local involvement. CNN has publicized a memo sent by the Deputy Inspector General of Police to the higher authorities warning them that a certain local Islamic group which he identified as “Nations Thawahid Jaman” (seems to be a misspelling of the title) was planning a suicide attack.
The memo, seen by CNN, goes as follows:
April 11, 2019
Director – Ministerial Security Division
Director – Judicial Security Division
Director – Retired President’s Security Division
Acting Director – Diplomatic Security Division
Acting Director – Retired President’s Security Division
Reference to the letter of the defence ministry with regard to the above and the statement of IGP dated April 9, 2019 ref : STAFF05/IGP/PS/OUT/2860/19; We would like to draw your special attention to the a page no 2 to 4 of the statement of the State Intelligence service stating that information has been received regarding an alleged plan of suicidal attack by the leader of ‘Nation’s Thawahid Jaman ‘ Mohammad Saharan. According to information of that statement, would like you to give special attention and inform your staff to provide special security measures to the areas covered by your division.
Deputy Inspector General of Police
However, the government has not blamed any group for the attacks saying that investigations have only begun. However a plan to stage a suicide attack, the first by a Sri Lanka group, appears to have been there as per the DIG’s memo. This group could be an affiliate of the IS.
While the government’s agencies will go into the blasts thoroughly and a Presidential Commission of Inquiry is to be appointed to go into the matter and submit a report in two weeks, Dr. Gunaratna suggests that the government immediately take measures to tighten security which had become lax after the end of the war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009.
“Prevention should be the aim of the State. For this, there should be stricter anti-terror laws in place. And to enable effective implementation there should be political stability. Under conditions of political instability anti-systemic and radical movements thrive,” the expert argued.
“To stop the spread of radicalism, the social media and the internet should also be subject to surveillance and control. Internet service providers should be given precise guidelines and those providers who do not follow the guidelines should be taken to task,” Dr. Gunaratna said.
There is also a dire need for an inter-faith dialogue, he added. “This is necessary to prevent communal animosities and radicalization of the various communities,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan leaders have uniformly appealed for the maintenance of communal harmony. Since Presidential and parliamentary elections are due in the next few months, mainstream political parties across the board are keen on cultivating the Muslims who are 8% of the population and who could influence the result as they did in 2015 when they voted en masse against Mahinda Rajapaksa and dethroned him.
It is therefore highly unlikely that any mainstream party, least of all the government, will encourage a communal conflagration. However, radical anti-Islamic outfits like the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) could make anti-Muslim and anti-Islam statements, but the people are unlikely to lend an ear to them.
Normalcy in Colombo
Sure enough, Colombo is quiet, though those who can remain at home are at home to be on the safe side. Transport has been restored and offices are functioning, though schools are closed. Experience of earlier blasts in Colombo and other places suggests that it will be business as usual in no time.