Sri Lankan Bomb Blasts

Is it time for a new international effort to rid our planet of terrorism?

Background

On Easter Sunday (21 April, 2019), between 8:25AM and 9:05AM, three churches in Sri Lanka (Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo) were attacked by suicide bombers. The bombers entered the churches during the mass service, mingled with the congregation and set off their deadly payloads. Almost simultaneously, between 9:15AM and 9:20AM, three more suicide bombers attacked the restaurants in three high-end waterfront hotels (Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury). Preliminary reports suggest that the bombers carried IEDs in backpacks and used steel-ball bearings to increase lethality.

That afternoon, while the police were carrying out investigations, two more suicide bombers detonated themselves. One of the two bombers, was a pregnant mother of three children, who was also the wife of one of two brothers, who carried out the morning bombings. In the detonation, she killed herself, her three children and three policemen.

While security forces continue to carry out operations, so far, the death toll is 257, including possibly 44 foreigners.

Analysis

Who Did It?

Sri Lankan authorities claim the attacks were carried out by two little known fundamentalist organizations; National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI). Eight of the identified suicide bombers were Sri Lankan nationals. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed association and released a video with eight of the alleged suicide bombers. However, the IS has a reputation for taking credit for actions they are not responsible for; so far, there is little evidence to substantiate the IS claim.

Why Was it Done?

The IS also claimed that the attacks were carried out in retaliation for Feb, 2019, attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. However, the government of New Zealand and other analysts have discounted this possibility. Why vested interests in the Muslim minority (9.7%) should carry out attacks on the Christian minority (6.1%), defies coherent explanation, at this juncture.

New Security Protocols

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Sri Lankan Government blocked Internet and social media. Though these services were subsequently restored, the paradoxical question is, during a national crisis do the benefits of community communication out-weigh the adverse consequences of misinformation? The Sri Lankan Government, to assist security forces in carrying out identification, prohibited the wearing of any kind of face-covering. Though not specifically mentioned, the restriction applies to burqas, hijab scarves and niqab face veils, normally worn by Muslim women. In times of national emergency, such security measures are likely to have more acceptability, by the public. 

Assessment

So far, we do not have satisfactory answers to either of the questions, ‘Who did it?’ and ‘Why was it done?’. Though the suicide bombers were identified as Sri Lankan, the scale of the operation, the sophistication of the attack and the high level of motivation amongst the terrorists, suggests foreign assistance. The episode also serves to highlight the vulnerability of homeland populations to terror outrages, assisted from abroad. 

International terrorist organizations use transnational space with impunity, to carry out attacks on unsuspecting people. Perhaps, the time is opportune for the global community to reinvigorate the global war on terror. After the 9/11 attack in 2001, the global effort wilted because nations were unable to concur on a definition of terrorism. A definition of terrorism is the starting point, which can lead to an international law on terrorism, a global strategy and pooling of national law-enforcement resources, to rid our planet of this menace.