Colombo, April 25: Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, a leading Sri Lankan expert on terrorism, including West Asian terrorism, says that it is misleading to say that the National Tawheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out the multiple suicide attacks on targets in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. The truth is that they were Sri Lankans affiliated to the Islamic State (IS).
“Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne was wrong when he told the media that it was the NTJ which had carried out the blasts. The blasts were the handiwork of the Islamic State (IS) with the involvement of its Sri Lankan affiliates,” Dr.Gunaratna, who is an expert on the Al Qaida told this correspondent from Singapore.
Dr.Gunaratna is Professor of Security Studies at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies. He was the first to say publicly, that the Easter Sunday blasts were the handiwork of the “Islamic State with the help of its local branch”. He is the author of “Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror” (Colombia University Press) and is an expert on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also.
Dr.Gunaratna said that the main suspect, Moulvi Mohammad Zahran, had split from the NTJ and was on his own. And somewhere along the way he linked up with the Islamic State (IS).
According to Hilmy Ahamad of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL), Zahran himself was not sophisticated enough to link up with an international organization like the IS though he had a good command of Arabic. Ahamad believes that some highly educated and similarly motivated Sri Lankans would have brought about the link up with IS.
And sure enough, at least some of the nine suicide bombers involved is Sunday’s blasts were highly educated and wealthy persons with foreign degrees.
Repeated Splits in Tawheed movement
Dr.Gunaratna said that the Tawheed Jamaat movement in Sri Lanka had gone through many splits and that Zahran’s splitting from the NTJ was the latest.
The splits had been taking place over ideology with increasing radicalization being the order of the day since IS changed its name from ISIS to IS on June 29, 2014. It had been driven out of its habitat Iraq and Syria and had become global in its organization and recruitment.
The more radical group would split and form an independent entity, Dr.Gunaratna said.
The inspiration for the Tahweed movement had come from Tamil Nadu in India, where the Tamil Nadu Tawheed Jamaat was well established under the leadership of P.Jainulabdeen alias PJ.
PJ had had difficulty in coming to Sri Lanka to preach as he faced opposition from the Sri Lanka Jamiuathul Ulema which was Sufi in its ideology. Following a violent incident, PJ was barred from entering Sri Lanka twice.
Zahran, who was with the Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaat (SLTJ), split along with SLTJ Secretary Abdul Razick. They left SLTJ on the grounds that it was not radical enough. After this, Zahran went into hiding and perhaps formed the NTJ. He split with Razick too.
“Zahran’s name and that of his organization came to the public domain after a long time only with the blasts on April 21,” MCSL leader Hilmy Ahamad said.
According to Dr.Gunaratna, the NTJ mentioned by the government as the perpetrator is in fact the IS.
On the question if Zahran was one of the suicide bombers as suspected by the government, Dr.Gunaratna said that all he can say with certainty is that “Zahran is a very creative man”.
Perhaps this is a hint that Zahran is not among the dead bombers but is alive and kicking somewhere. The Lankan government too is not sure if he is dead or alive or whether he was himself a suicide bomber or not.
State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told foreign correspondents on Wednesday that out of the nine suicide bombers the body of one is yet to be identified.
Minister Wijewardene said that two groups were involved in the blasts – one is the NTJ and the other he declined to identify. The Minister further said that the unidentified group was the more radical and that its leader was the leader of the joint operation.
But according to Dr.Gunaratne , only one group was responsible and that was the IS operating through its local partners.
Government however says that the exact nature of the foreign involvement is yet to be fathomed. Police are investigating if there had been any foreign financial, logistical and technical help given to the bombers . Going by Minister Wijewardene’s statement, the current official thinking is that the IS’s role has principally been “’motivational”.