The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the serial suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, which have killed more than 300 people till last count. The Sri Lankan government has apologised for not acting on the intelligence inputs it had received earlier, reportedly from India and the US.
ThePrint asks: Sri Lanka terror attack: Has the world let its guard down on ISIS?
Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is very well integrated. This latest attack is appalling
Former DIG police, Sri Lanka
As the former DIG of police, I was in charge of the eastern province of Sri Lanka at one point. As someone who has seen the peak of terrorism during my service, the recent terrorist attack on churches and hotels is nothing short of shocking and appalling.
The Muslim community in Sri Lanka is very well integrated with the rest of society. I vividly remember that there was a terrorist attack on two mosques, which left around 90 people dead. But the Muslim community did not retaliate. They did not plan a revenge plot of any sort.
So now, when I hear of an extremist Islamist group attacking churches, I cannot even believe it. The terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks that have killed more than 300 people. We will get to know more as details emerge.
Until we know these details, it is difficult to speculate what caused and led to these attacks.
Terror groups like Islamic State & al-Qaeda are under pressure to engineer dramatic acts
Executive director, Institute for Conflict Management
The Sri Lanka serial suicide bombings have shocked the world not only because of their magnitude and tactical sophistication, but also because they came out of the blue.
While Islamist radicalisation in Sri Lanka is a fact, there has been no significant prior manifestation of it in domestic acts of terrorism.
More than anything, the bombings demonstrate that no country is immune to such acts of terrorism. It also shows that within each community, there is a small fringe that can be mobilised by ideologies of hate to inflict extraordinary brutality.
At the same time, it is important to emphasise that global Islamist terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda have suffered dramatic reverses in their theatres of dominance, significantly diminishing their capacities to act in other regions.
There is tremendous pressure on such organisations to engineer dramatic acts of terror just to ensure the survival of these movements. While there is no way to guarantee that their efforts fail, intelligence and enforcement agencies need to be extremely conscious of this lingering threat.
There are clear indications that foreign intelligence agencies were cooperating with the Sri Lankan government, and information regarding threats had been passed on well in advance. While Sri Lankan authorities failed to respond adequately, there is no reason to believe that the world is neglectful of the enduring threat of global Islamist terrorism.
Given the sustained efforts by the al-Qaeda since 1996, and the Islamic State since 2014, to extend their activities across the Indian subcontinent, it is abundantly clear that they have failed to do so, except in the Af-Pak region.
The reasons for this are – the effectiveness of the state responses and rejection of these ideologies and movements by an overwhelming proportion of Muslims in this region.
With this latest ISIS attack, Sri Lanka is almost back to square one
Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Deputy editor, Ceylon Today
Security and terrorism are now the primary global concerns. Terrorism has pushed several countries towards economic crisis. South Asia is witnessing religious extremism and racist attacks, which has created fear psychosis in the region.
Sri Lanka waged nearly three decade-long civil war with the LTTE. The group took to arms after it suffered oppression and marginalisation. The sheer magnitude and impact of that conflict was beyond anyone’s imagination.
After three decades of conflict, we finally began to achieve some semblance of peace. Perhaps, Sri Lanka is one of the few countries to have achieved peace in the manner that it did after struggling with terror for so long. Despite some political upheavals here and there, we have been sincerely trying to make up for the time we lost due to the conflict.
With this terror attack, it is almost like we are back to square one. We have never faced an attack from an extremist Islamist group in this fashion. This proves that terrorism can’t be eradicated simply by eradicating an extremist group – it is a mindset that needs to be defeated.
The attack also shows that the intel was taken lightly – authorities had some prior information and yet failed to act on it.
Attack in Sri Lanka shows ISIS’s capabilities have been seriously underestimated
Research associate specialising in South Asian geopolitics, Centre for Policy Research
The Easter Sunday bombing was perhaps the deadliest terror attack outside the Middle East for which ISIS has claimed responsibility.
It isn’t clear whether the bombers had direct ties to the ISIS, or if they were inspired by the Islamic State’s call to Muslims to carry on jihad in their home countries. In either case, the attack in Sri Lanka shows that the group’s capabilities have been seriously underestimated since the recapture of its territory.
If the attack was carried out by ISIS fighters, it demonstrates an extraordinary capacity to carry out such a deadly strike so far away from its base.
More dangerously, it suggests a political willingness to target countries like Sri Lanka, which are not openly allied with the western coalition in the Middle East. The ISIS threat is now far clearer and more urgent.
On the other hand, if the bombers were not directly affiliated to the ISIS but inspired by its message, then the situation appears more dangerous. It suggests that the ISIS propaganda still carries irresistible appeal across the globe and efforts to nullify that message remain inadequate. The growing Islamophobia in the current political climate will only serve to worsen the situation.
Sri Lanka attack could just be the beginning of more terror attacks in least-expected locations
Retd Vice Admiral, and strategic analyst, India Foundation
The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has said that Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka that targeted Christians were carried out by fighters from its organisation. The claim is being confirmed.
Looking at the pattern and location of serial bomb blasts, it was very clearly supported by external terror organisations who have taken cover under nomenclature of ‘non-state actors.’ It has been repeatedly stated by various commentators that defeating the ISIS in Syria is not the end of terrorism worldwide. It is a pause for the fighters to regroup and carry out attack in locations least expected. Sri Lanka attack could just be the beginning.
There are possibilities that the Sri Lankan fighters who had joined the ISIS would have returned home and energised the radical groups. State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene mentioned that attacks were carried out by two local radical groups — the National Thowheed Jamaath and the little-known Jamiyyathul Millatu Ibrahim. Investigators from external agencies in the US and neighbouring countries are helping Sri Lankan agencies in the investigation. Linkages of these Islamist groups with the ISIS and possibly AfPak training and financing centres cannot be ruled out.
There are no ‘non-state actors’ in the world. Terrorist organisations cannot survive without covert or overt state support. Term ‘non-state actor’ is a fallacy.
Easy to defeat ISIS in battlefield, but eradicating it demands a different strategy
There are two distinct threats the world faces in terms of global terrorism: the ISIS and its global affiliates in the post-caliphate world, and the emergence of transnational white-supremacist extremist networks.
While the ISIS has lost its caliphate, it now manifests itself in two distinct forms. First, as a global network – at its peak, there were several jihadi outfits across the world, which either adopted the ISIS franchise or declared their allegiance to the group. This network has not disappeared. Second, as an ideology – which also continues to persist.
We also tend to forget what drove the ISIS to such humongous success: its ability to innovate. The ISIS succeeded by using battlefield, governance, and communication innovations. They produced weapons on an industrial scale and came up with vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs); provided governance and security in war-torn anarchic Syrian and Iraqi towns; and used social media to recruit at a scale that was unheard of.
It is easy to defeat the ISIS in the battlefield, but eradicating such an innovative organisation requires a different strategy.
On the other hand, another worrying trend is the emergence of transnational white-supremacist extremist networks.
Brent Tarrant, the terrorist responsible for the New Zealand shooting, was linked to a Ukrainian white-supremacist paramilitary organisation called Azov Batallion. Tarrant during his travels had visited Azov and even trained there. He was also in touch with Norwegian and Bosnian-Serb white-supremacist extremists.
Azov serves as a critical node in the white-supremacist extremist network and uses its “Western Outreach Office” to attract and recruit foreign fighters.
In a way, the violent white supremacists are adopting the transnational jihadi template.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint.