In Brief

Sri Lanka attacks ‘linked to international terror network’

Government blames local group, but experts point to ‘co-ordination, sophistication and timing’ as proof of foreign involvement

The wave of bombings that rocked Sri Lanka over Easter killing 310 people was most likely carried out with the support of an international network, experts claim.

As Sri Lanka prepares for a day of national mourning, no-one has yet claimed responsibility for the coordinated targeting of several churches and luxury hotels which left hundreds dead and over 500 injured.

The government has been quick to lay the blame at a little-known homegrown jihadist group, National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ).

Sri Lanka’s health minister, Rajitha Senaratne, announced that authorities had been warned of a possible attack by the group two weeks earlier and had the names of suspects.

Police have arrested 24 people in a series of raids, while a state of national emergency has been declared, giving the military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

But while the government has moved swiftly, many have suggested the attacks could not have been possible without some sort of foreign assistance.

“Very few here expected these massive attacks,” says the BBC’s Anbarasan Ethirajan, reporting from the capital Columbo. “The co-ordination, sophistication and timing may indicate international support, but it is not clear yet if National Thowheed Jamath, if it is indeed responsible, has links with global jihadist groups”.

According to local social media, one of the suicide bombers was an NTJ preacher who made tub-thumping speeches on YouTube backing radical Islamist movements across the region. 

The Guardian’s Jason Burke reports that Islamist militant attacks “have largely been the work of local groups rather than major international organisations such as Islamic State and al-Qaida, despite the continuing efforts of both to expand in the arc between Afghanistan and Bangladesh”.

He writes that each group has built links with local factions and individuals, working through what are effectively “subcontractors”.

However, “the magnitude of the attack and the targets, Christians and tourists, points in the direction of an international network of terrorists” says Andreas Johansson in The Independent.

“For a small group to make a jump from vandalism and rhetoric to a major, highly co-ordinated attack of this scale without outside assistance would be unprecedented” says The Times’ Richard Spencer.

The Times says there have also been fears that Islamic State militants returning from the Middle East could pose a threat in Sri Lanka, while Burke claims “at its peak, Islamic State successfully attracted a very significant number of recruits from the Maldives, the islands close to Sri Lanka, with which there are strong transport and commercial links”.

At least 32 members of Sri Lanka’s minority Muslim population are known to have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside Islamic State and “some may have returned and brought their expertise with them” says Spencer.

Whoever is ultimately proven to be behind the attacks, Johnasson says they represent a “new form of terrorism” in a country already polarised by so many different conflicts as to make it “ripe for exploitation by those with a twisted agenda.”

Recommended

Animal-human conflict on the rise in India
Sign warning about elephants crossing
Unreported world

Animal-human conflict on the rise in India

Why has Hong Kong dropped its Tiananmen memorial?
gettyimages-517198274.jpg
In Depth

Why has Hong Kong dropped its Tiananmen memorial?

The countries that could follow Sri Lanka into chaos
Sri Lankans clash with police in Colombo amid the country’s economic crisis
Why we’re talking about . . .

The countries that could follow Sri Lanka into chaos

Can North Korea control a major Covid outbreak?
Kim Jong-un removes his face mask after announcing North Korea’s first official Covid case
Unreported world

Can North Korea control a major Covid outbreak?

Popular articles

Are we heading for World War Three?
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine
In Depth

Are we heading for World War Three?

What happened to Logan Mwangi?
Tributes left to Logan Mwangi
Today’s big question

What happened to Logan Mwangi?

Nato vs. Russia: who would win in a war?
Nato troops
Today’s big question

Nato vs. Russia: who would win in a war?

The Week Footer Banner