The utter confusion and internal rumblings in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the deadly suicide bombings raise disturbing questions over the island nation’s preparedness to tackle the emerging threats from international terror networks. The friction between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is well known. And, both claimed that they were unaware of an intelligence alert about an imminent terror attack. Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and police chief Pujith Jayasundara have resigned, taking responsibility for a major lapse in intelligence on the Easter bombings that claimed over 250 lives. Incidentally, Sirisena had kept Wickremesinghe away from the national security council, creating confusion within the Sri Lankan security brass. Though the President has promised to overhaul the country’s security structure, it is clear that the island nation, which has largely remained peaceful since the end of the ethnic war with Tamil Tigers 10 years ago, was not equipped to tackle the dangers being posed by global Islamic terror. The ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Sunday terror strikes and there are nine Pakistani nationals among 76 people arrested in connection with the attacks. It must be pointed out that Indian intelligence agencies had sent multiple warnings to Colombo about possible terror strikes. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) last year charged a Colombo-based Pakistan diplomat with plotting to attack the US and Israeli consulates in India and it had emerged that Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LeT) charity, Idara Khidmat e Khalq, has been radicalising Sri Lankan Muslim youth since the tsunami of 2004.
In the light of the possible Pakistani connection to the Easter bombings, it is significant that Wickremesinghe has spoken about the possibility of seeking Islamabad’s help to trace the terrorists and eliminate them. There is a need for greater coordination among nations in the region in security and intelligence-related matters to deal with the scourge of global terrorism. Security agencies need to be connected so that they can share real-time actionable intelligence regarding terror suspects and plots. The days of operating in silos are over as a terror attack in one country could have links to groups and plots in another country. The world is now witnessing a dangerous trend where plots are hatched by local groups and then given financial and logistical support by international terror outfits. This is what appears to have happened in the Sri Lankan case. The only way to defeat such forces is by having greater coordination among countries in terms of intelligence sharing and counter-strategies. It is welcome that countries like the US and Morocco are helping Sri Lanka investigate the Easter bombings. But more multilateral cooperation is needed to prevent, fight and eliminate the hydra-headed terror monster.