- India knew six months ago of the attacks
- Muslim votes or focus on tourism development
- People have lost faith in Government
- Sri Lanka’s GDP will hit 0 to -1% in Q2, 2019 for which the Government must take responsibility
It’s been one month since the murder of around 300 innocent Catholic children and parents but no has yet been charged for the biggest negligence of duty that Sri Lanka has seen in recent history.
The President and Prime Minister have both denied any knowledge of the impending attacks when the Indian Intelligence report states that way back on 4 April the Government of Sri Lanka was informed. Then again on 9 and 16 April, and finally just two hours before the attack on Easter Sunday, but the warning was not heeded. It is a gross negligence of duty that stems from inadequate experience and low knowledge of the policymakers.
The President appointed a high-powered Committee just one week into the deadly attack on Easter Sunday. Headed by Supreme Court Judge Vijith Malalgoda, PC, it includes N.K. Illangakoon and Padmasiri Jayamanne, a former Secretary to key ministries. The Interim Report was presented to the President within two weeks but there was no disclosure made.
The committee had apparently sought an extension of its term until 31 May to complete the final report. Media reported that the final report was handed over to the Attorney General’s Department for action. There was a news report that appeared over the weekend that the former Defence Secretary and Inspector General Police would be charged but, as Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith mentioned, “God will get the people who rule this country to pay for this manmade sin rather than passing the blame down the line.” As we speak now, the only people that the masses have some confidence are Malcom Cardinal Ranjith and Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake.
Cardinal becomes tough
Let’s accept it, Sri Lanka is witnessing one of the most inefficient political hierarchies governing the country, from passing the buck to politicking with the Muslim politicos who are allegedly involved with the Zaharan group and for the release of the key suspects from the copper factory in Wellampitiya just to name a few. Before this incident we saw the Central Bank bond scam and the country facing a power crisis which exposed the grim reality of the Government’s ability to manage the country.
Whilst Sri Lanka has recovered from the initial shock of the Easter attack, the real impact to the survivors is just hitting Sri Lanka. Sadun (not his real name) was a seven-year-old boy who went to church with his parents to celebrate Easter Sunday. When the bomb ripped through St. Sebastian’s Church, he found his father on his right on the ground, face down, whilst his mother who was on his left was not to be seen. His first reaction was, ‘How do I go home?’ Then, there was another young girl of 11 who has shrapnel embedded inside her head and neck that cannot be removed but somehow she made it to Sunday mass last week with the hope that “God will cure me,” as voiced to a TV reporter.
I wish the President and Prime Minister who are playing Muslim leaders for votes at the next election can meet these two children to know what the people who voted for them are going through. This is why the Cardinal mentioned “God will make the leaders of this country see the reality one day”.
India knew six months ago
What the specialists are saying is that before Sri Lanka announces that “the country is safe for tourists,” they must first understand the global thinking of this group ISIS based on the extensive research they have done.
What specialists state is that a typical country’s intelligence mechanism will never know every detail of these new-age terrorists. They must integrate with the global agencies who do this research and it is only then that ‘the total jigsaw puzzle’ can be put together for the picture to be seen.
For instance, it was way back in November 2018 that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) of India was on a case of a group of people wanting to kill two eminent leaders in South India. It was then that they stumbled on the video where Zaharan was seen radicalising youth in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka to set up Islamic rule in the region.
NIA then went onto research the Zaharan group and discovered the cell phone numbers and bank account details linked to the global organisation ‘Islamic State’ which trained core staff members in places like Syria.
With this data, NIA had informed the Sri Lankan Government about the impending attacks but sadly the people who received this data did not have the skillset to properly action the Government machinery. This led to the brutal killing of the 350 odd people who were essentially Catholic women and children and top personalities like the ASOS owner’s own children that shattered the peaceful image of Sri Lanka globally. The ramifications will now be seen in the two million odd people whose livelihood is from the tourism industry. My estimate is that Sri Lanka’s GDP will hit zero to -1% in the Q2, 2019.
People lost faith in Govt.
The above revelation and the manner in which the Government is going about solving the issue have resulted in the people losing faith in the Government. This is why there is a low turnout of children in schools. It will be interesting to see how Parliament reacts to the two no confidence motions that are in play.
Whilst the tourism industry is wanting a clear strategy to show the world that Sri Lanka is safe but then the media reports how Muslim politicos are calling top military people asking for the release/details of arrested people, and top IT companies’ staff members allegedly linked the ISIS movement that include being trained in Syria are yet in the process of being arrested.
This includes offices from the Hansard Department of the Parliament of Sri Lanka which justifies the thinking that Professor Rohan Gunaratne said, “Arresting the core 200 hardliners is only the first phase of the operation. The more difficult part is the dismantling the infrastructure and social network that is almost 90% of the entity.” Sadly, the Government leaders are not sensitive to the advice of the experts.
Second wave of attacks?
If one takes time to understand the inner workings of an ISIS-related entity in an organisation, the process is as follows:
Just like Zaharan, typically individual families initially become radicalised and tend to operate as units. At this stage, they tend to keep their intentions and movements among themselves only. Thereafter each unit liaises with other radicalised family groups, forming larger networks which is what we saw happening in Sri Lanka in the last four years and the intelligence units of the Government were not able to pick up this development even though the Buddhist clergy gave a heads-up almost two years back.
A point to note is that information at this stage is tightly protected within networks to elucidate loyalty that transcends to ideology. Research reveals that encrypted social media networks and messaging apps are believed to be used to facilitate communication and planning. We saw this in action on 21 April where coordinated attacks were executed with a clear plan in place. A clear differentiation point of ISIS-related behaviour is using families to achieve their aim seems to be part of a trend which is very different to terror organisations like the LTTE.
It is believed that in Sri Lanka around 150 people are linked to the movement whilst 89 have been arrested. However, there is a second line that is working at the strategic end that needs to be combed out too. For instance the person working at an IT company, the person in the Hansard unit of Parliament, and the number three spice exporter in the net have been picked up but it is believed there are more in this eco system. According to the theory of conventional terrorism, every suicide bomber needs at least five handlers. If you go by this theory there are 30 guys [for the six bombers]. Has the core been arrested and if so what action can be taken against them is what many are asking in Sri Lanka.
This is the reason why foreign embassies are not relaxing their advisories. Hence, until this second line is identified and dismantled, there is always a possibility of a second wave of attacks. The sad reality that many senior people in the Government are not aware of this insight or are blind to this reality given the election year ahead.
It’s time that the Government gets serious and either does what is right to tell the world that Sri Lanka is safe for tourists to visit our country or continues to play the political game and takes the country to the wire. As at now there is no single voice to the world.
(The writer is a Roman Catholic and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. The thoughts are strictly Dr. Athukorala’s personal views and not related to any organisation he serves in Sri Lanka or internally.)