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21/4 carnage: Must probe into ‘why they did, what they did’

28 April 2020 12:07 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


 A prayer service was held on April 21, 2020 in remembrance of those who parted during the Easter Sunday attack
Pic by kithsiri de mel


  • Cinnamon Grand Hotel suicide bomber confessed his revenge against Christchurch killing, sufferings of Syrians and Rohingiyan Islamic community
  • Reasons to assume American handlers of ISIS were behind issuing statements on behalf of ISIS chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi


We have crossed one year since those terrible events of 21/4. Painful memories of those shocking attacks on the innocents reverberate as if they occurred yesterday. No believer in any faith could have planned and executed the deadly mission. But some deviants from Islam with Muslim names did. How far have we gone to the bottom of the terror that was unleashed a year ago?   

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his remembrance message said that although Catholics were targeted, this was a terrorist attack against all Sri Lankan citizens. “I reiterate the pledge I made in the ‘Vistas for Prosperity’ policy statement that I will ensure the safety of all communities in my country” The President had rightly included also the community that the perpetrators’ names were identified with. It makes sense for the reason that this vicious form of terrorism cannot be eliminated without the utmost cooperation of all, the Muslims in particular.   

When the US criticized the appointment of Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, government circles contended that the internationally recognized legal principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ applies to all persons. Article 13(5) of the Sri Lanka Constitution, Article 11(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and section 14(2) of the ICCPR provide for clear laws on this matter applicable even at the stage of being prosecuted in a court of law. When the US thereafter announced that no visas will be issued to the Commander’s family from entering the US, the Sri Lankan side queried as to how the commander’s family could be made accountable and punished.In a strong rebuttal, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said, “Even though we are now in the 21st century, even members of his family who have not been accused of any wrongdoing have been subjected to a collective punishment reminiscent of the practice in medieval Europe”.   

The Commander or his spouse however had no plans at any time to travel to the US. The point is that in the absence of any evidence of conspiring, aiding or abetting, no spouse, parent, sibling, child, friend, associate or partner-in-any-other-activity could be asked to account for the acts of a suspect. Legal counselling is on a much higher and privileged platform, interference with which would be a violation of fundamental rights.   
As we re-lived those cruel moments of the tragedy and shared within us the pain of the unending suffering of the families of the over 500 injured and the 269 dead, we sought solace in the first anniversary address of the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith commended the victims for “their spirit of magnanimity in not reacting in anger and hatred”. He commended their patience. He called for a comprehensive inquiry. He expressed confidence in the on- going Presidential Commission of Inquiry.   

It would be apt that further investigations are conducted on the directions of the Presidential Commission in order to avoid accusations of political, ethnic or religious bias. Ethno-religious bias was easily noticeable even in the reportage of COVID-19 by sections of the media, although statistics and facts were mostly to the contrary.   
The chief prelate of the Malwatte ChapterVen. Niyangoda Vijitha Thera in a statement issued on April 21, 2020 said “it was a matter of serious concern that clear information on last year’s Easter Sunday attacks had not come to light as yet. The basis of every religious teaching is human well-being. How Catholics acted with restraint and a sense of responsibility in the aftermath of the terrorist attack is praiseworthy”.   

What are the sectors that require more comprehensive examination? Then Minister of Mass Media and State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene concluding the debate on July 31, 2019 on the extension of the Emergency told Parliament that;   

“MP Sudarshini Fernandopulle said that I referred to the Christchurch attack. Clearly the terrorist who attacked Cinnamon Grand Hotel had, prior to the attack, spoken to his wife over the phone. A recording of it is with the CID. In that recording the terrorist was clearly speaking about a number of reasons. He was talking about the injustices caused to the Muslim community. He also spoke about the harassment the Muslims suffered in Syria. Similarly he mentioned about the injustices on Rohingiyans in Myanmar. I listened to this recording. He clearly said the Christchurch incident was also a definite reason for this attack. That was why I spoke about the Christchurch incident on that day.”   

This recording was not tabled in Parliament by the then State Minister. If he had done so, there could be a more intelligent discussion on the purported motivations of the suicide missions of the terrorists. This or possible similar conversations of the other terrorists are unfortunately not in the public domain. No inquiry or investigation could be completed without a full and true ascertainment of all what was claimed to be the alleged reasons, whether they are true, false, fact or fiction.   

That being so, one might argue from what is in the public domain that the terrorists were not motivated by doctrinaire Islam but by current worldly controversial issues. What then is the basis to blame Islam for the inexcusable attacks attributable to deviant youths radicalized by modern day confrontational issues? Are we and this country not entitled to know which one is true of the motivational reasons?   

Clearly nothing whatsoever can legitimize the brutal terror attacks of 21/4. No one can use any reason even if true, to justify any form of violence! The only known exception recognized universally from time immemorial is acting in self-defence. But suppressing the truth and blaming the terror attacks entirely on Islam would be deceiving ourselves. The country is entitled to know the external manifestations of the motivations in order to prevent a recurrence. We need to be honest in deciphering the truth.   

Blaming the attacks entirely on Islam would certainly lead to radicalizing a wider segment of this community. Blaming Islam seems to be on the advice of foreign elements having agendas of their own. That would only serve those who want to engineer further conflicts in the country, those who want to divide the unity among the people and those who want to use our disunity to divide the country. But who will want to engineer conflicts? That is another vital aspect that requires due evaluation.   

This is what Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said on July 21, 2019 delivering a sermon at the re-consecration of the St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo: “The Easter Sunday mayhem was an international conspiracy and not merely the work of Islamic extremists.” The Archbishop said further, “The youth who carried out the bomb attacks were used by international conspirators. Global Muslims have become victims of international forces. However, global Muslims should stand against the conspirators who use Islamic ideologies to create mayhem all over the globe. They should join the people of other religions to fight against those forces who insult Islam to fulfill their aspirations. I have seen a report that ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was in a military camp run by the most powerful nation in the world. I won’t mention the name of this country but clearly, the ISIS leader was in a military camp in that country. We are worried that the ISIS leaders are being used by this powerful nation to fulfill their vested interests. We question whether this nation knew about the bomb attack. We also question whether some are trying to create a Sinhala-Muslim backlash and create unrest in our country.”   

His Eminence went on, “I don’t believe a group of youth created the Easter Sunday carnage merely because of their ideologies with regard to Islam. Pope Francis when he met President Maithripala Sirisena had asked him as to why there were so many conflicts in the world today. The President had said he did not know. Then the Pontiff explained that it was because of the mass production of weapons.”   

It is well known that the US created Al Qaeda and backed Osama Bin Laden against the Russians. There are good many reasons to assume that it was the US handlers of the ISIS issued statements on behalf of the group in the name of Al-Baghdadi. The ISIS claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage three days after the attacks. Was Al Baghdadi in the US military camp in Iraq at the time of the ISIS claim? Why were the US FBI and other agents in Sri Lanka soon after the bomb blasts, whose presence here was questioned by a then Opposition MP now a Minister in the present government?   

In this context we need to recall what happened in 2008 in Ahmadabad in Gujarat, India. Bombs had been planted in 21 locations in Ahmadabad. Shortly before the blasts, all local TV stations received emails from the “Indian Mujaheddin” claiming responsibility for the blasts.   

The international news agency Associated Press (AP) in a report filed on July 29, 2008 said the Police had discovered that the email purporting to claim responsibility for the blasts had been sent from the computer of an American national named Ken Haywood, then operating from Mumbai (formerly Bombay). He however managed to escape from India with diplomatic assistance, Hindustan Times said later.   

The point is that terrorist outfits such as “Indian Mujaheddin” existed in the computers of Americans possibly working for the arms industry. So is the case of “Al Qaeda” “Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT), ISIS et. That, in my view, is what the Archbishop had alerted the country about. These and the role of foreign intelligence outfits need to be investigated and thoroughly assessed to ensure genuine long-term security for the country. Bashing Muslims will also help external interference as they did during the 30-year war on LTTE terrorism.   

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his first anniversary statement, ‘Remembering the Easter Sunday Attacks’ has disclosed more alerting details. He had said “the intelligence service of a friendly country had provided advance warning to the then Sri Lankan government of the possible dates and targets of the attacks, and the names, addresses, identity card numbers and even telephone numbers of the terrorists involved. Therefore this attack could easily have been prevented.” Failure to prevent the attack is no excuse to gloss over the wider and deeper facets that led to the suicide attacks.   

In any event inquiries into the 21/4 carnage must bring into the public realm, ‘why they did, what they did’. We also need to investigate the role of the international arms industry and their agents and promoters in the region who may be the foreign handlers of these terrorists.   

(The writer is a President’s Counsel and a former Member of Parliament) 

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