Tragedy in Sri Lanka

AuthorPublished: 23rd Apr 2019  12:00 amUpdated: 22nd Apr 2019  9:15 pm

Easter heralds a message of hope for humanity but the tragedy that struck the churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday could not have been crueller. A deadly wave of coordinated suicide bombings that ripped through three churches and three hotels, killing 300 people and injuring over 500, comes as a grim reminder of the scourge of terrorism that the world faces today. It was a 9/11 moment for Sri Lanka, an island nation still struggling to cope with the aftermath of the decades-long ethnic conflict that ended in 2009 with the annihilation of the Tamil Tigers. Sunday’s attacks brought back bitter memories of civil war that had claimed over 80,000 lives and left a deep scar on the multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. The attacks were clearly intended to target Christians, foreign tourists and hurt the tourism-dependent economy. Christians, who constitute less than 8% of the country’s population, have been active in politics but never identified with any parochial cause. Therefore, the terrorists targeting the congregations of Christians appears to have a non-national context, apart from challenging the authority of the Sri Lankan state. A little-known local jihadist group, National Thowheed Jamath, is believed to have carried out the attacks. This fringe outfit has no history of large-scale attacks but came to prominence last year when it was blamed for damaging Buddhist statues. However, the operation of such a magnitude could not have been possible without the support of an international network. The bombings carry an unmistakable imprint of a global Islamist terror network.

Even at the peak of the brutal war with the Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka had never seen this sort of attack — coordinated, multiple and high-casualty. The gruesome attack speaks of the mindless violence driven by hatred towards other human beings simply because they are grouped as a religion different from the haters’ own faith. The coordination behind the strikes, which occurred around the same time on both sides of the country, suggests that it had a wider international plot. The crisis could not have come at a more inopportune time as there is already a friction between the President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The PM’s statement that neither he nor his ministers were kept in the loop about an intelligence alert, sent out two weeks ago warning of possible attacks, exposes loopholes in the government. As the President declared a nationwide emergency, questions are being raised as to why adequate precautions were not taken despite prior information about the possible targets of terror attack. The island nation has seen witnessing sporadic violence in the last few years. In March last year, a state of emergency was declared after clashes between Buddhist Sinhalese and Muslims.