South Asian Insider
Opinion and Editorial
The Sri Lanka bombings: A time of fear and uncertainty
The devastating bombings targeting churches and high-end hotels in Sri Lanka, which killed nearly 300 people, have shattered the calm that has existed in the island nation since the end of a bloody civil war almost a decade ago. More significantly, the attacks - blamed on a domestic radical Muslim group named National Thowfeek Jamaath (NTJ) - exposed the political dysfunction within the government because of the animosity between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sri Lankan ministers have now acknowledged that foreign intelligence agencies alerted Colombo about possible attacks by NTJ as early as April 4, but nothing seems to have been done to thwart them. Mr Wickremesinghe has even said neither he nor his ministers were kept informed about the advance information on attacks, and there are reports that the prime minister hasn't been allowed to attend meetings of the Security Council since last October.
The timing and selection of targets - churches and hotels filled with people celebrating Easter - are significant. The manner of the strikes by suicide bombers, all of them Sri Lankan citizens, suggests considerable planning and coordination went into the attacks. Though little is known of the NTJ, the group is not believed to have the capability to organise such bombings on its own. All of this has led counterterrorism experts to conclude that the NTJ was working closely with a foreign group. Some have even pointed a finger at the Islamic State, especially in view of the targeting of Christians and similar attacks by the group in the Philippines and Indonesia. The Sri Lankan government's failure to rein in Buddhist hardliners who have targeted the Muslim minority in recent years has created the grounds for the radicalisation of young people. There have been reports of the increasing influence of Salafi ideology among Sri Lanka's Muslims and the growth of mosques and seminaries funded by West Asian nations. Dozens of Sri Lankan Muslims are believed to have joined Islamic State and at least one has died fighting in Syria.
Clearly, the Sri Lankan government will have to get its act together, both to apprehend those responsible for Sunday's bombings and to prevent further attacks, though whether this will happen remains doubtful, given the breakdown of relations between Mr Wickremesinghe and Mr Sirisena. With elections due to be held in the country by December this year, Sri Lanka could witness more uncertainty and instability, something that could have far-reaching ramifications for India and especially the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
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