Sri Lanka faces a myriad challenges, as it attempts to deal with the fallout of the dastardly terrorist attacks against innocent civilians, that were carried out on Easter Sunday. The economic fallout of the carnage has yet to be quantified, with the Government facing an uphill task in leading the country out of the quagmire. [...]


Unlikely that ISIS was involved in Easter Sunday attacks


Sri Lanka faces a myriad challenges, as it attempts to deal with the fallout of the dastardly terrorist attacks against innocent civilians, that were carried out on Easter Sunday. The economic fallout of the carnage has yet to be quantified, with the Government facing an uphill task in leading the country out of the quagmire.

The need to heal wounds and rebuild trust between the communities is of paramount importance. The need to speedily bring all those responsible for these dastardly acts before the law and account for their actions, as well as to ensure there is not even the remotest possibility of such horrible incidents taking place at any time in the future, is another task facing the Government.

In dealing with these and other issues, the Government in particular, and the country in general, must not misread the situation and make wrong assumptions with regard to the background to the Easter Sunday attacks. Such errors of judgement can only take the country down the wrong road and make a bad situation worse. There are several steps that need to be taken in the short term, such as ensuring the security of the people and the country. Other long term courses of action should be taken after adequate reflection, when the power of reasoning is no longer effected by the emotions and grief generated by the situation.

There is a great need to carefully examine and understand the nature of the attacks carried out on Easter Sunday attackers. Although they have been labelled the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), from all reports available, they seem to be more a network of individuals, rather than an organization like the LTTE. This is substantiated by the fact that the Muslim community has not heard of such an organisation before April 21, 2019. Whereas, there have been other organisations such as the All Ceylon Thowheed Jamaath and the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamaath, which have been in existence for several years.

Another question that needs to be carefully examined is whether this was an ISIS operation. The information available indicates that these individuals may have drawn their inspiration from the actions of ISIS and, a few of them may have even obtained training from ISIS operatives or any other individuals or groups willing to offer them training. But that is a far cry from this being an ISIS operation, in the sense of an act carried out by ISIS operatives or ISIS agents, in furtherance of ISIS objectives.

This thinking is further supported by the fact that ISIS themselves took more than 48 hours to claim ownership of the attacks. Thereafter, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who, incidentally, was believed to be dead and not heard of for over five years, suddenly reappeared to claim ownership for the attacks, over one week after the attack.

In summary, this seems to have been an operation conceived in Sri Lanka and implemented by a limited number of individuals who have been denounced and disowned by the Muslim community.

By describing these as ISIS attacks, the media maybe unwittingly making it larger than what it actually is and creating exaggerated fears in the minds of people.

This analysis is based on the information in the public domain, and may be at variance with the information available to the Intelligence Agencies. Even if the Intelligence Agencies have determined that it is an ISIS operation, it is more prudent for the Security apparatus to set about dismantling the network silently and speedily, rather than alarming the public by associating the attacks with the ISIS.

Another area that deserves the immediate attention of the Government is to ensure that, in the process of bringing to book the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, the fundamental and human rights of ordinary Muslims are not infringed. The three main leaders of the country, President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa have clearly articulated the position that the Muslim community is not responsible for the actions of a few.

However, despite these pronouncements, there are reports of Muslims being harassed in public institutions like Hospitals and Government Departments, as well as private institutions like Supermarkets. Fortunately, remedial action has been taken and instructions given to correct the situation. but continuous monitoring is needed to ensure that the situation is kept under control.

Management of the media has always been one of the weak points of this Government, where it is unable to even take its own achievements to the people, effectively. In the post April 21, 2019 context too, this has been an area where the Government has been found wanting.

For instance, when the security forces are traversing the country in search of evidence and suspects involved in the attacks, they are also stumbling upon material that is attributable to criminal activities unconnected with the April 21, attacks such as forged passports, false identity cards, small bombs among other things. All these unrelated evidence is also shown together with the evidence relating to the attacks, giving the impression that the whole country is in chaos and insecure.

As of this week, one notices a new development in media coverage. When arrests are made, the suspects arrested are described as Muslims or that, incriminating evidence has been discovered in a particular place such as a restaurant or a house close to a mosque. Whether this is deliberate or simply acts of carelessness in reporting, the damage caused is immeasurable, and in breach of the Media’s social responsibility.

Another phenomenon is the telecasting, ad nauseum, of CCTV visuals of the suicide bombers and their movements towards their respectful points of attack on the fateful day. Telecasting these movements on one day may be excusable, but what purpose could be achieved by almost daily repeating these visuals is difficult to fathom.

Contrast the case of New Zealand, where the Government even refused to name the attacker of the mosque, and used the media to positive effect.

In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday tragedy, the Government has to address two critical issues to bring about a quick return to normalcy.

The first is to strengthen the Rule of Law. While there has been some degree of improvement in this area, after the change in January 2015, much more has to be done. Anyone, irrespective of his race or religion or station to life, has to be made to account, if he breaches the Law. Despite the Muslim community repeatedly, bringing to the attention of the authorities and giving them the names of those who were involved in ‘ extremist’ and ‘radical’ thinking, no action seems to have been taken.

If this had been nipped in the bud it may never have developed into a violent course of action.

The other issue that the Government has to address is that of hate speech. This is rampant in both the conventional and social media. Slowly, but surely, the minds of the public is being poisoned to hate the ‘other’. Such conditioning of the mind over a period of time can cause a change in attitudes among people and communities, to the detriment of the country as a whole, and will be difficult to reverse.



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