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Sri Lanka: What checks out so far - Arindam Mukherjee

Even though IS-KP have claimed responsibility, and even though this sounds credible due to the fact that the Khorasan chapter of ISIL has had their targets set on recruiting guys from pockets like Bangladesh, south of India (TN and KERALA: 80 guys and counting – proud moment for many I am sure) and Sri Lanka… this piece is for those that are somewhat confounded and/or irritated amidst the rain of news and views pouring from all forms of media.

THE PERPS. You could be fairly certain that this wasn’t an independent deed of one the local outfits even if you overlooked the first paragraph. The profile of the venues (posh hotels and churches in posh areas), the style of attack, the kind of explosives required and used (guess points to a combo known by the radicals as TATP; that was put together to explode as required in the factory of one Insaf Ahmed – the Hotel Shangri La bomber – and quite a rich son at that), the kind of recon or the sort of training that usually precedes such assaults and… a few of the suicide bombers – there are two from a particularly notable family – are anything but some ragtag local bunch in their signature. Historically Al Qaeda, and more recently ISIL, are known to have (had) this sort of influence in the minds of scattered wannabe radicals; their global ummah umbrella appeal has always been effective.  

THE GEOGRAPHY. Sri Lanka has off-late been a convenient transit-zone for ISIL aspirants to Middle East apart from being an up and coming destination for Islamic studies, especially for Indian students from down south (fair recruitment ground there). Over and above the 32 guys officially accepted (which means there are many more) by the Lankan Govt as Sri Lanka’s contribution towards ISIL, ISIL aspirants from neighbouring India (Kerala) or Maldives have been tracked to the island; they have used this as their stopover to Syria. Across the other end, ISIL has had their eyes set on SE Asia – Maldives, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka (a large concentration of Muslims, obviously), over and above Central Asia for some time now. There has been a surge of disruptive activities – bomb blasts, easy money, and recruitments – that these nations’ been witnessing. Then there is the Al Qaeda too; they are trying very hard to gain some ground; they are lagging as a result of losing out in appeal as prospective bomber-recruiter. But if you are unaware of global affairs you are not supposed to know these insignificant little details.

THE BIG QUESTION. Sri Lankan Police apparently had circulated a memo about a possible Islamic suicide attack. That was on April 11. So yes, they had some info. Security agencies all around the world are eliminating scores of such threats 24/7; it is only human that they fail a few times. This probably was such an occasion. But… if the agencies knew that churches were the target, with a mega-weekend like Easter approaching, why would they go easy on such an info, is the question that remains. Points out towards uneasy corners. Sri Lanka is going through a rough patch. So much so that when the suicide attack intel was shared, a section of the political class thought this could be a precursor to a coup; to follow immediately. There is news about a few faultlines running right through a couple of Lankan ministries. There is also this tussle between the PM and the President that’s hanging low there (the PM says he wasn’t informed about the threat when the intel was shared). As for the rest, I am not hazarding any guesses here; we would soon get to know anyway.

FINALLY. Those suspecting an Indian hand in everything can relax. India – as early as Sept-Oct 2018 – had informed Colombo about the development of the next level terror network in Sri Lanka. This was the result of interrogating a Tamil ISIL sympathizer whose name remains hidden for obvious reasons. Like it or not, Sri Lanka, China, and India, are getting together around the fact that they are destined to remain tangled with each other, and they are trying to make this tangle look neater. There have been developments on that most of you are unaware (refer to BOP crisis and how India and China joined hands to sort that out).

So that’s all for now on this one. I felt compelled to put this together following a few queries. Will keep you posted if there are some game-changing news.

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