Startling evidence has come to light that Naufer Moulavi, who was the second in command of the Islamic State in Sri Lanka had planned to carry out attacks in all nine provinces of the country this year but had been unable to proceed as planned due to a leadership dispute with leader Zahran who wanted to attack immediately, which led to the Easter Sunday massacre in 2019, a defence expert revealed yesterday.
Naufer is presently in custody and will be tried shortly.
The attacks which were planned for 2021, have all been dismantled due to every single member associated with the plan being arrested and under the custody of police.
Further, all those linked to the Easter Sunday attacks have also been either killed or arrested.
Institute of National Security Studies Director General Professor Rohan Gunaratne told Daily Mirror that Naufer Moulavi had an ideology to expand the Islamic State in Sri Lanka and carry out attacks in all nine provinces, but faced a dispute with Zahran who wanted to carry out immediate attacks, stating their approaches were different.
Zahran finally had the edge over his plans after the mosque attacks in Christchurch in March 2019 and informed his group to prepare to carry out attacks immediately which led to the Easter Sunday attacks.
According to debriefings, evidence has also surfaced that among the targets that Zahran’s team was planning for a second wave of attacks in the provinces, they had surveilled enforcement and civilian targets including the Independence Day celebrations.
Zahran had entrusted the second wave of attacks to his brother Zaini Moulavi who led the National Thawheed Jamaath after Zahran went underground in March 2017 in Kattankudy after he clashed with the Sufi Muslims.
Evidence has also come to light that Zaini and Rilwan, brothers of Zahran, had planned to attack the Esala Perahera in Kandy. The Independence Day celebrations was surveilled in 2019 by Noufer, the mastermind, and Milhan, the military leader.
Professor Gunaratne said that according to investigations, Hastun, who was the suicide bomber who detonated at the Katuwapitiya Church, surveilled the targets online before they were surveilled in physical space. Among the targets for the second wave of attacks was also the Judas Thaddeus Church known as the Thetttativu Church in Batticaloa and this was surveilled through the smartphone of Sarah Jasmine, who was the wife of Hastun. This church was what Sarah Jasmine had attended to worship before converting and taking up the IS ideology, Hadiyah, the wife of Zahran revealed this during questioning to state and police intelligence officers.
“The second wave of attacks would have resulted in a greater loss of life and the attack team was larger than the Easter attack team. However, the members of the second attack team perished in Sainthamaruthu mass suicide on April 26, 2019 when the police and military surrounded their safe house in Ampara, on the assistance granted by the Muslim residents in the area who noted suspicious activity. If not for the help of the Muslim residents, these people would have possibly not been caught that day,” Professor Gunaratne said.
On the day of the mass suicide, 17 people were in Sainthamaruthu that night including Sarah Jasmine and Feroza who was the wife of the Zion Church bomber. Zahran’s wife Hadiyah had left the hall along with her daughter moments before the suicide bombs detonated inside the safe house.
Professor Gunaratne said that following rumours that Sarah Jasmine was not killed in the mass suicide, police have filed an application to court to exhume all bodies of the Sainthamaruthu blast to match Sarah Jasmine’s mother’s DNA to confirm if Sarah Jasmine was killed that night. If court permission is granted officers will retest to reconfirm her death.
Professor Gunaratne said that following the Easter attack, police had arrested everyone associated with the attack as well as arrested everyone planning the second attack wave of attacks and most of the information against the suspects was given by the Muslim community who did not want any further attacks by the IS linked radical members.
Naufer is also among the three Sri Lankans charged by the US Department of Justice for providing material support to the IS that led to the death of 268 people on Easter Sunday including 5 US nationals.
Investigations have revealed that Zahran built state of the art infrastructure of safe houses that he purchased or rented for both hiding and training which included eight safe houses in Ampara.
Professor Gunaratne said that today, following quick arrests and intense investigations, the threat of terrorism had diminished appreciably due to decisive action taken by law enforcement authorities working in the directorate of the military intelligence and State Intelligence.
“The next phase of action should be for Muslim leaders and their organisations to regulate religious space and ensure Salafi Wahabism does not re-emerge in Sri Lanka,” Professor Gunaratne said.
Towards this, Sri Lankan authorities are working closely with the ACJU, DMRC and the Wakaf Board and other Muslim institutions to ensure the radicalisation pipeline is dismantled, Professor Gunaratne added. (JAMILA HUSAIN)