GP Insights

GP Insights # 34, 5 May 2019

Sri Lanka Attacks: Deepening fault lines
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

What happened?

This week, the Sri Lankan authorities released the names and photos of the nine suicide bombers involved in the attack on Easter Sunday. The names include Mohammed Azam Mohammed Mubarak, attacked the Kingsbury Hotel; Alawudeen Ahmed Muwath, denoted the bomb at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo; and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo was attacked by Achchi Mohamadhu Mohamadhu Hasthun. The other names include Inshaf and Ilham Ibrahim, the brothers who attacked the Cinnamon Grand Hotel and Shangri-La Hotel, respectively. The previously mentioned, Shangri-La Hotel, was attacked by another suicide bomber also, Zahran Hashim, who is said to be the mastermind of these attacks.  Fatima, Ilham Ibrahim's wife is the seventh attacker who denoted a bomb in their family home when police were conducting a raid, killing three police officers and her children. The eighth bomber is Mohamed Nazar Mohamed Azad and the ninth was Abdul Latheef Jameel Mohammed, who intended to attack Taj Hotel, according to the Sri Lankan authorities, but his bomb detonated outside a small hotel in Colombo, killing two more people.

What is the background?

Some of these names were recognised and published immediately after the attack on 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday attack, but some of them were unknown previously.  In fact, on the basis of the above information, Ibrahim family home was raided in the 21 April afternoon, that led Fatima, Ilham Ibrahim’s wife to detonate a bomb. As mentioned above, Mohammed Zaharan Hasim, who was also immediately recognized through the CCTV camera at Shangri La Hotel, was a radical religious preacher and also headed the organisation called National Thowheeth Jama’ath. He is also the one who was present in the video released by the ISIS, as evidence of their involvement in the attack. But Sri Lanka authorities are yet to establish the extent of ISIS involvement and also the duration of alliance with Zaharan Hasim.  The 26 April blast, which happened due to a raid at Hasim's hideout at Sainthamaruthu, killed his father, brothers and other relatives. A video discovered during the raid is the evidence that most of the family was involved in the planning of the attacks. 

Initial recognition of the bombers had made it evident that many of them are foreign educated and belong to rich families. But the second set of names by authorities also pointed out that most of the bombers were from Kattankudy. Hashim’s family also belong to this town in the east of Sri Lanka, a majority population of which are Tamil Muslims and this town is surrounded by towns with majority Tamil Hindu population. This indicates that the segregation of Tamil Muslims in the 1990s by the LTTE could be a trigger for the rise of extremist in this small town.

What does it mean?

These attacks have a larger consequence than visible as of now. Domestically, apart from taking innocent lives and hampering the tourism, it has steered fear of similar attacks and also deepened the existing fault lines in between the ethnic and religious communities. The recent ban of veil covering faces have restricted the movement of many Muslim girls, some have left going to school and Madrassa. This has also impacted the present Sri Lankan government, due to the intel failure.

The recently reported fact that Zaharan Hasim has travelled to several Southern Indian cities and Kashmir have led to the question of assistance of any Indian terrorist groups also. Sri Lankan attack has compelled one to rethink about ISIS reach into other South Asian countries especially India and Myanmar.

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