Black Sunday and aftermath | Daily News

Black Sunday and aftermath

As the nation comes to grips with the horrendous carnage on Easter Sunday it behoves the authorities, especially the country's security apparatus, to step up vigilance to prevent a repeat of the kind of bloodbath, reminiscent of the past when the war against terrorism was at its zenith. If need be the country should be placed on a ‘war footing’ -for want of a better term- and that which was coined by successive governments that fought the war and which the public are all too familiar with. The country certainly paid a heavy price for dropping its guard, so to speak, even while there were murmurings of religious extremists groups gradually getting a foothold in certain areas. Soft peddling such speculation, as they certainly appeared to be on the surface, caught everyone napping when the enemy decided to strike, in spectacular fashion.

The Black Sunday attack was the first coordinated terror strike carried out in this country which was not seen even in the dark days of the LTTE. The targets were carefully picked- churches which were celebrating the Easter Sunday mass where capacity crowds were participating and the Five Star hotels where the tourists must have been preparing for their morning Easter repast. The most heart rending scenes were beamed to homes on live television where in most instances several members of the same family were wiped out, naturally, as the family participates in the church services as a unit in the Roman Catholic tradition.

The attack on the holy shrine of St. Anthony in Kochchikade, perhaps the epicentre of Catholic worship in this country, no doubt, in the minds of the perpetrators would have caused most emotion among the Catholic faithful given the sanctity and prominence attached to the miraculous saint and patronized by people of all faiths.

The scale and magnitude of the carnage, no doubt, will long linger in the memory of most, particularly the Christian community, the attack claiming the lives of nearly 300 worshipers (at the time of writing -as the body count keeps rising) while nearly 450 lay injured, most of them battling for life. No known act of terror by the LTTE claimed such a heavy toll on a single occasion, where civilians were targeted, which is indicative of the resourcefulness of the enemy.

The attack, no doubt, was intended to cause panic in the country and to also inflict the maximum damage on the economy, taking a leaf from the LTTE, which targeted key economic installations such as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, World Trade Centre, the Airport and Five Star hotels. The economy was certainly picking up with tourism recording an ‘up’ in arrivals and the rupee on the ascendancy against the dollar after a long slump. No doubt, the Easter Sunday carnage would see a drastic reversal of this trend, particularly to the tourist industry, given that as much as 37 foreigners were killed in the explosions at three Five Star hotels. Needless to say, these were high end tourists who brought in the shekels, and prospective investors.

It is in this light that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called for calm and expounded on the need to pick up the pieces. In an address to the nation in the aftermath of the tragedy, he spoke on the urgent need to stabilize the economy, no doubt, from the body blow it was dealt with while giving the necessary instructions to the security service to go after the perpetrators. The Government yesterday also appealed to all public servants to report for duty at their places of work with a view to restoring normality which is also a move in the right direction since the sole intention of the terrorists is to paralyze the economy through the creation of panic.

It is early days yet to point the finger at any particular organisation or religious group, as some seem to suggest. Nearly a dozen suspects have been arrested and while this is being written interrogation is continuing. Of course, the attack carries the hallmark of Jihadist groups given that similar coordinated attacks have taken place in some of the Western capitals like Paris and London where simultaneous strikes were carried out in the Discos, cafes and the Metro where large crowds gather. More details, no doubt, would transpire while the process continues and until such time the public are advised to remain calm. In the meantime, all possible precautions should be taken by the authorities and the general public who would do well to be alert to their surroundings and the movement of suspicious persons. A hotline has already been open by the Police to convey such information. The Private Bus Operators have already banned parcels in the buses which in the heat of the moment is understandable and a wise precaution. However there is no need to press panic buttons at this stage except for stepped up vigilance.

Prabhakaran used to often say that Sri Lankans are characteristic for their short memories which he attributed to the success of his terror campaign for such a lengthy period. Following Sunday's carnage the public would do well to revisit this remark. 

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