By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Ceylon Today
Colombo, December 28: The people of Sri Lanka along with their brethren across the world are to celebrate the dawn of 2021 in a subdued and austere manner, as they did in the case of Christmas. Abiding by the call made by the Archbishop, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Sri Lankan Christian community had an austere Christmas as the second wave of COVID-19 infections swept across the island claiming 170 lives and infecting more than 30,000.
This is the second austere Christmas in Sri Lanka as the 2019 celebrations were held in a mournful atmosphere after the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks on several churches including the most sacred St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo by ruthless Muslim extremists.
On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, eight bombs went off in popular hotels and historical churches across Colombo and other Christian majority coastal cities in the west and towns in the east of the country, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. Within hours, the Islamic State-claimed the attack. It took terrorism analysts by surprise because there had been no known history of jihadi violence in Sri Lanka.
The US Government and independent experts had reported that Islamic extremism was on the rise and that the spread of Islamic extremism was the pre-eminent threat. Rich Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Iran and a few others from the Middle East supported and funded the spread of Islamic extremism globally.
A.R. M. Imtiaz, a researcher attached to Temple University in the United States warned in a research paper that “one should not simply disregard any possible future connections between the economically weak but religiously rich Northern Sri Lanka Muslims who construct their ethnic identify on Islamic faith and global Islamic forces and who desperately need recruiters beyond the borders for their campaign to build an Islamic State. Our recent communications with a few frustrated displaced Northern Muslim youth suggests such possible future collaborations with the Middle-East-based Islamic transnationalists. The rapid Islamisation of the local Muslim community and the desire to uphold Islamic values suggest some form of transformation among the Muslims of Sri Lanka in general and the affected North and East Muslims in particular.”
He added that one way to rationally prevent radicalisation is to address the problems of the displaced Muslims. Sri Lanka should not be a new recruiting base for global Islamic forces.
Jonah Blank, a researcher and political analyst for the Rand Corporation, said that the Easter Sunday attack was a result of political negligence more than intelligence failure. “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) did not choose Sri Lanka, but the Sri Lankan extremists chose ISIS,” he said.
Several of the attackers were well educated, and two were scions of a Colombo-based very wealthy family. They provided the cell for plotting. There were indications, however, from as early as January 2017, that individuals associated with the National Tawheed Jama’at were becoming increasingly supportive of the Islamic State and mobilising support for violence. This was missed by local law enforcement agencies. The Sri Lanka attacks may be early evidence that the Islamic State is taking an important and renewed interest in South Asia, following losses in Syria and Iraq.
Many analysts believe that the Islamic State, after losing all its territory in Syria and Iraq, viewed the Sri Lanka attacks as a significant breakthrough in its attempts to reset the narrative about its decline. On 29 April 2019, the Islamic State released a video of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in which he presented the Easter attacks as vengeance for the Islamic State’s March 2019 defeat in Syria and thanked the attackers for their pledge of allegiance.
The Presidential Commission to Investigate (PCoI) the Easter Sunday Attack is likely to reveal the foreign connections and details about funding the terrorists by foreign individuals or institutions. Last week, a Member of Parliament Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe called for an explanation in regard to the donation of Rs 920 million given by the Muslim World League to the relatives of the victims of the 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday bombings. He pointed out that since the donation had been received for the welfare of the victims and injured of the Easter Sunday bombings, it was necessary to know what happened to it.
Indian intelligence has uncovered that several Indian youths who had come to Sri Lanka for further studies in the Qur’an have joined ISIS terrorists on several occasions. The International Islamic terrorist organisation is using Sri Lanka as a migration hub, the Indian intelligence units and intelligence agencies have confirmed. The Eastern Province is a battleground for extremist gangs competing for influence.
The Government closed down the Islamic University constructed in Batticaloa with the patronage of former the Governor of Eastern Province, M L A M Hizbullah with funds received from foreign sources. Many have expressed the opinion that there was a risk that young Muslims were being brought to the East from Bangladesh, India and other countries to impart religious extremism.
Some startling revelations were made at the hearings of the Presidential Commission to Investigate the Easter Attack. Earlier this month, former Eastern Province Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police, Hodamuni Devage Edison Gunatilaka revealed that Muslim extremists had been armed and propagating extremism since 2008-2009. Initially, the funding was sought for self-defence against LTTE terrorists. Gunatilaka said that Zaharan’s was one of the 18 armed extremist groups that emerged at that time. He said that investigations had revealed that Rishad Bathiudeen, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, A.L.M. Athaullah and a number of other ministers had provided protection to the extremists. Gunatilaka further said they were linked to Al Qaeda jihad, adding that investigations at the time had revealed that Hizbullah had an extremist organisation.
The Police Officer, responding to a question regarding the behaviour of extremist Muslim youth during that period, said that the first extremist group was formed in 2008. It starts with the name “Islamic Centre”. They extorted land. They murdered opponents. They punished those as their will. Former Governor of the Western Province Alavi Moulana instructed to prevent the formation of these groups. These people said that they are a threat to the traditional Muslim people and a dangerous part. He also said that Tawheed Jama’at organisations have been formed in India and in many countries of the world.
The people have the highest expectations from law enforcement institutions. However, the people, especially the Christian community display a growing concern over the delay in bringing the culprits to book. The Police have the fullest responsibility of probing crimes, arrest suspects and also discharge a person if there were no evidence to prove guilt. There is a high expectation that the Presidential Commission to Investigate the Easter Attack, in its report, will reveal the names of the people, Muslim organisations and political groups and foreign connections, if any, responsible for the brutal terrorist attack on Easter Sunday 2019.