BY Waseem Akram
On 21 April 19, eight bombing attacks struck at least three churches in Sri Lanka, along with three five-star hotels favored by foreigners, killing 321 including more than 32 foreigners and at least 500 injured. Suicide bombers detonated their explosives during Easter services at St. Anthony’s Shrine (a historic church in Colombo), St. Sebastian’s Church (at Negombo north of Colombo) and at the Zion Church in Batticaloa. In Colombo, they also struck the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and New Tropical Inn hotels. Explosive devices were also found near Colombo’s international airport and other areas, but they did not detonate.
The Sri Lankan government has declared a state of emergency in the country after discovering 87 bomb detonators in a search at Colombo’s central bus terminus. The security police have reported 24 arrests and the discoveries of a van used in the massacre. Reportedly allthose who have been arrested are Sri Lankan nationals but the entity behind the bombings have not yet been named.
According to sources, Sri Lankan police issued an internal memo on 11 April 19 that an unspecified foreign intelligence agency had warned that hard-line Islamist group National Thowfeek Jamaath (NTJ) was planning suicide attacks on the High Commission of India in Colombo and on churches.Though the name of intelligence agency has not been revealed at least two top diplomats in Malibelieve that like the Mumbai attacks warning, this alert was alsoissued by CIA.
As far as the Muslim community in Sri Lanka is concerned; like Indonesia, the community has not been particularly drawn to extremism. Therefore, National Thowfeek Jamaath has very limited appeal, membership and ability to undertake terrorist operations of this magnitude without outside help and training. NTJ leaders, most of them imams and preachers are well known; some have spent years in detention. However, if NTJ is involved in the attack, it would be a major shift in its policy that is adoption of violent tactics. It would also mark a major departure for a group heretofore known for vandalism and hard-line rhetoric.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant group carried out numerous suicide attacks throughout the 1983-2009 civil war, but none were this devastating in its scale and coordination.The degree of sophistication in the making of the bombs indicates that the attackers did in fact have help from outside Sri Lanka. This help could have come via coordination with external militant groups such as LTTE operating under RAW from Tamil Nadu, India or IS controlled by Mossad operating in Syria and Iraq or from a combination of the two.
The investigations about the real perpetrators of the attacks are going on,and somehow the IS has claimed the responsibility of the attacks. Let us review who is going to benefit from these attacks the most. On global level after the Christ Church mosques’ massacre,there was a general wave of sympathy for Muslims, internationally. Therefore, both Israel and the US were finding it difficult to absorb the Golan Heights by beating drums of expanding threat of Islamic terrorism and extremism. Therefore,the killing of Christians at their places of worship by Muslim militants on a holy day is likely to inject new life into the Islamophobia in the Western world. This would also help the US to tighten sanctions against Iran without much resistance from Western world as well American allies in South and South East Asia. Similarly, by design reckless Indian journalists and media are trying to implicate Pakistan as well as Maldives in the episode being the two Muslim states of the region so as to taint these countries as haven for terrorists and create wedge between Sri Lanka and them.
It is known fact, over the last decade China has outpaced India in deepening ties in the South Asian region. Most impressive is China’s growing economic and strategic influence in Sri Lanka, especially in recent years,which has always been thought of Indo-centric, both economically and culturally. China after developing, strategically located Port ofHambantota has acquired the operating rights of this booming port. Similarly, the Chinese are investing heavily in tourism and other industries in Sri Lanka.
It is an open secret that the Indian RAW played a pivotal role in replacing pro-Chineseex-President Rajapaksa with sitting President Maithripala Sirisena who is believed to be pro Indian. New Delhi believes that President Sirisena will work to roll back the Chinese influence and strive for genuine reconciliation with the Hindu Tamils. However, since President Sirisena has not come up to the Indian expectations on both fronts,it is a prevailing thought in New Delhi that Sri Lanka must be punished. The recent terrorist attacks have been conducted to politically discredit the present government. Similarly, it is also aimed at depriving Sri Lanka of much needed money, which it is earning through its booming tourist industry.
Sri Lanka has a history of ethnic cleavages and intercommunal violence. Most of this has involved tensions between the majority ethnic Sinhalese Buddhists and ethnic Hindu Tamils. Of late, the Muslim minority (around 10 percent of the population) has started bearing the brunt of Sri Lanka’s rising Buddhist nationalism, which many believe,has beenabetted and sponsored by the intelligence agencies of some foreign countries. Recent years have also witnessed Sinhalese and Muslims engage in back-and-forth riots in March 2018, as well as numerous smaller incidents of intercommunal unrest before and since. Therefore, if Muslim extremists are involved in this attack, they must have been recruited and trained by hostile intelligence agencies.Such tactics have been used by these agencies, in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project is of strategic significance. If completed, as envisaged, it will help China to enhance its political and economic clout further, globally. Since both the US and India are wary of peaceful rise of China as a superpower for varying reasons,to them the OBOR must be derailed by engineering conflicts, chaos and security concerns in the region. As Pakistan and Sri Lanka are two important partners of China in the OBOR project, both the countries have become victim of state sponsored terrorism by India and its allies in the region.
At this critical time, while extending all-out help to Sri Lanka, both Colombo and the people of Sri Lanka need to be made aware of the narrativesbeing built through speculations and ensuing propaganda by the Indian and Western media.Like Mumbai attacks, it is firmly believed that the recent attacks are also a complete setup where the IS may have been used as facilitator or executor. However, the real mastermind of this attack is the practitioner of Hindutva and Zionist ideology,whichenjoy close relations with the IS. The only beneficiaries of this attack seem tobe the Modi government and the US establishment.
(The author has served as Ambassador of Pakistan in Sri Lanka)