More than two weeks has gone by after the brutal and gruesome carnage that was unleashed against the innocent, unarmed Christian worshippers and unsuspecting diners, who had shown up in numbers to enjoy the Easter brunch at the leading hotels in Colombo.
At the time of the blasts, the country which was slowly returning to its day-to-day affairs after the long Sinhala/Tamil New year holidays, where the celebrants usually travel to their home-towns to celebrate the New Year with their kith and kin. On the other hand, the Catholics and other Christians, who had been gearing up to celebrate the feast of the resurrection -commonly known as Easter Sunday.
But what awaited them was just unexpected mayhem.
Mohomed Zahran-led National Thowheed-Jamaath (NTJ) terrorists went on a suicide bombing spree at three Churches and two hotels initially, killing more than 250 and wounding and maiming more than 500 others, and detonated two more lethal explosives at a resort in Dehiwala and at a house of a millionaire businessman in Dematagoda, where three Policemen had been killed and two suicide bombers, believed to have been the wives of the millionaire spice trader’s sons, too perished in the blast.
Subsequently the security forces, on a tip-off from the Muslim public in Sammanthurai stormed a hideout where again the suicide bombers blew themselves up after releasing a video, that went viral on many social media platforms, in which they had warned many explosions would follow and invited fellow Muslims to join the Jihad, in other words, the ‘Holy Crusade.’
But the million dollar question, that still warrants answers from various quarters-especially from the Government, Ministers, authorities and other higher-ups -for the soft-peddling after the warning by foreign intelligence and not alerting the local security network.
The slaying of cops at Vavunatheevu
It all began on November 30, 2018, where two Policemen who were at a sentry point at Vavunatheevu in the Batticaloa District had been shot and stabbed to death by unknown assailants.
Rather complacently, the law enforcement suspected a couple of rehabilitated ex-Tiger militants and they were jailed without any deep-rooted investigations. Some foul-mouthed politicians constantly raised cries that the incident bore similarities to the resurgence of the LTTE.
Wanathavillu training camp
The other, the most serious and the biggest lapse in terms of security, was the ignorance shown after the Wanathavillu incident where the security personnel encircled a terrorist training camp and culminating in the detection of 100kg of lethal explosives at the site.
This particular detection had links to various politicians and a few businessmen. One of the suspects who was apprehended for vandalising Buddha statues in Mawanella led to this detection.
Despite the fact that some of the suspects were imprisoned no legal action was instituted against them.
Due to intense political pressure, some of these suspects had been released and eventually, one of them appeared as one of the suicide bombers, who were behind the heinous crime that took place on Easter Sunday. Does the question arise as to why no proper investigations were carried out? If done, this mayhem could have easily been averted and the terror activities could have also been easily crushed.
To some degree, there is sufficient reason to believe that the dreaded ISIS would engage in any ad hoc preparations. All their attacks carried out in Europe and other countries were well planned. Also, they list out their tasks alternatively; if one ends in failure to do the other. The ISIS’ carried out such attacks, especially in Europe. First, the suicide bombing to inflict maximum casuality, secondly, to plant explosives and detonate, possibly through remote control, third is using machetes and swords to lynch or inflict fatal wounds and the fourth is to ram trucks or any vehicles into a crowd of people and kill as many as possible.
The ISIS leader Akbr al Baghdadi has lauded the attackers in video footage. The ISIS gradually but firmly spread its tentacles to many countries after the West-aided attack and the recapturing of Iraqi and Syrian territory, which the ISIS had declared its de facto state (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). It established its links through the local Islamic fundamentalists or hardliners that operate in the respective countries (i.e. National Thowheed Jamaath in Sri Lanka). Unfortunately, Sri Lanka had become a soft target.
ISIS - LTTE
Conflicts are not new to us, Sri Lankans, as we withered under one of the most dreaded terrorist groups that often threw challenges at the country’s armed forces. Thanks to the courageous leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the LTTE terrorism was wiped out of our shores and the whole country has been bathing in the warmth of peace and communal harmony.
However, many politicians including the President had said recently that though the LTTE was engaged in a three-decade-old separatist war, it did not engage in the killing of innocent civilians. They had a cause and fought for their people. That was the reason the Tamil people followed them.
But this attack had only one goal, one aim, one solitary intention; that to massacre people in large numbers. It is true that there were sporadic minor incidents in which some evangelical Churches were attacked and burnt and the followers sought Police protection.
But nothing took place on a larger scale or seriously which were likely to draw the attention of the rest of the world. This was the first such brutal and inhuman attack on innocent devotees in our beautiful isle.
Mohamed Zahran, his brothers, their ardent followers and of course his friends who were believed to be the members of the murderous outfit, National Thowheed Jama’ath has the nexus that provides a link to the mothership - the ISIS operating from elsewhere after were being ousted from Iraq and Syria.
The most important factor was that the local ISIS suicide cadres did not hail from slums or uneducated street fighters or gamblers.
Instead, it was a millionaire businessman and Presidential award-winning spice-exporter Ibrahim Hadjiyar’s sons, who were involved in the heinous crime that killed so many and maimed several others.
It shows the extent of brainwashing and the deep-rooted jihadist radicalism poured extensively to their minds, that led them to discard their wealth, family and social status and die to fulfil their pledge made to the ISIS.
Moreover, the Dehiwala bomber had done his higher studies in aeronautical engineering in the UK and Australia. It’s so scary to think that how many thousands or millions all around the world are being nu rtured and brainwashed by the ISIS to carry our more lethal attacks and cause mayhem!
It was obvious that the Sri Lanka security apparatus was complacent on the external threat but were ever vigilant on the resurgence of the LTTE. They were busy tightening all the screws and sealing all possible holes carefully to ensure that the LTTE does not, in any way, raise its head again, and they are successful in doing that too. This is the situation the Islamic terror groups or the jihadists, the likes of ISIS, had capitalised so well and entered the island through the door that was kept wide open by the National Thowheed Jama’ath.
Had the Wannathivillu, Mawanella and Vavunatheevu incidents been probed accurately, Sri Lanka would not have seen the anger, distraught and anguish forced upon her beloved citizens.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HIERARCHY
Meanwhile, a huge chunk of credit should go to the local Head of the Catholic Church, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who had single-handedly brought the situation under control through his sheer and impeccable leadership. Also, he never forgets to comment about the inability of the Government to stop this, despite being warned by Indian intelligence sources. He also criticised some foreign nations that turned a blind eye on terror activities.
While some schools still remain closed some have resumed activities and especially the Catholic and Christian schools have postponed resumption until May 13.
By the time this article is written, and the parents are still gripped in fear of sending their children to school and worried about their own safety. Also, the Catholic churches are wary to conduct their routine Sunday Masses due to possible attacks, as cautioned by the Catholic Church hierarchy.
The political leaders seemed to have not learnt anything out of this deadly carnage that was unleashed upon the country’s citizens. They are still engaged in mud-slinging and hold campaigns of malice to send the already embattled nation into a further quagmire.
We are at a crucial juncture where we have to show our solidarity, disregarding party politics and petty issues. Even when an animal is attacked, the rest of the herd comes to its rescue from its predators.
But where do we stand here? We always wait to see something negative happening to a human next to us to capitalise that moment to trample or tarnish his/her image to the maximum extent. In this context, how are we going to join hands to thwart the challenge posed by the common enemies - the terrorists? The heads of State have chameleonic views. One disposes any such opinion which the other one had proposed and vice versa, and it happens almost immediately.
Some Muslim politicians, especially two of the very prominent figures in the Eastern and North-Western Provinces were reportedly and allegedly nurtured the extremism and one had gone to an extent of warning of a ‘blood bath’.
Already they are facing the wrath of the people and pressure is on the government to arrest and probe these two for their possible involvement with the ISIS. Recent reports state that a powerful oil-rich Middle East country is alleged to have cautioned its people and diplomats to be wary of possible attacks, a few days before the mayhem rocked the country.
This raised a few eyebrows as to how they could alert before the attack. And it is worth probing.
Moreover, since the combined search and combing operations by the Police and armed forces, huge hauls of weapons such as bombs, gelignite sticks, wires, thousands of swords, machetes, knives, detonators, suicide kits have been detected and several suspects have been taken into custody and some businessmen and individuals who have had links with terrorist groups are being probed.
Finally, carrying out such a string of deadly suicide attacks would not have been possible without establishing links with some countries that nurture, finance, breed, train and accommodate terror groups. The cardinal responsibility of the Government is to find who was behind this and break such links to save our country from further disaster and loss of human lives.