Beyond Black Sunday | Daily News
Combating jihadist terror:

Beyond Black Sunday

Since the deadly explosions that rocked churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, the race to apprehend radicalised terrorists and find concealed explosives continues with dedication. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Police now functioning under the unified Overall Operations Command (OOC) have brilliantly adapted to the new challenge of jihadist terrorism. Whilst the military and law enforcement agencies play a pivotal role in counter-terrorism, we must not forget the role of the public. Every Sri Lankan, irrespective of age, religion and gender has a great responsibility towards the motherland in this dark hour.

Evolving explosives

Our nation was inundated with explosives during the period of the insurgency in the South and subsequently the North. Sri Lankans were once familiar with the danger of bombs, but after a decade of peace, many are enticed and carried away by the blissful pleasures of life - and received a dark reminder of death last week. Leading the effort alongside the Armed Forces in finding and defusing explosives are the Special Task Force units. In 1984, when the tentacles of terrorism were gradually spreading in the North and East, the newly formed Special Task Force (STF) was engaging in foot patrols when on September 1, 1984, the enemy exploded their first landmine. This threat presented a new challenge to the STF.

Together with the insight of former British SAS (Special Air Service), the Sri Lankan Police commandos had to streamline their search techniques, and formed the Counter-Terrorism and Bomb Disposal Wing (CTBD). To this day, the STF proudly continues their extensive search in Parliament. Today, the CTBD teams use high-tech equipment on par with Western nations. They secured the BMICH for the CHOGM conference. Nitroglycerin was introduced prior to before World War 1. During World War 1, artillery shells carried TNT (trinitrotoluene), and RDX (Nitramide) was widely used in World War 2.

C4 and ammonium are the deadly substances of basic explosives. The texture of C4 is soft to the touch like marshmallows. Just 10 grammes of this substance can blow you to death. Due to its malleable texture, C4 can be shaped into any form - a statue, a book or to resemble a cake. The mind of a terrorist induced with extremist ideology manifests its evil genius and will conceal explosives in a fountain pen, Bible, sports trophy or teddy bear. New forms of ‘sheet’ explosives that are paper-thin can be placed in a book or mailed as a letter. They can be left in a courier box at any venue and will be mistaken for a box of stationery. Low explosives burn rapidly (deflagrate) and high explosives detonate. We must remember the van parked near St. Anthony’s Church was said to have explosives wired to four gas cylinders to increase the velocity of the blast and maximise casualties. Bombs are not always solid objects - there are liquid explosives like Astrolite (ammonium nitrate and hydrazine rocket fuel) which can be kept among gallons of water in a public place and suddenly blasted.

An IED (Improvised Explosive Device) can be made in any design and colour. They are often placed at choke points on the route of an important convoy. The CTBD crews have relied on the use of specially trained German Shepherds and Labradors.

The public must once again be vigilant at railway stations, hospitals, malls, cinemas, places of worship and the airport. Trains are a soft target for any terrorist as they cannot be stopped like a land vehicle to begin a search. Every church, Buddhist temple and even Hindu kovil must have a systematic security system in place. It might mildly inconvenience devotees, but one cannot take a risk. It must be said that people must refrain from bringing large bags into places of worship. E.g., there is no need to carry anything into a church except the Bible. In addition, mass or service times should be altered on different Sundays so that jihadists cannot profile and target a specific church. The visit of senior clergymen (i.e. Bishop, Archdeacon or Senior Pastor) to a church should not be published in church bulletins or Facebook weeks before, as they can be targeted.

In the difficult days ahead, people of all religions must be willing to be searched - if required by the police or military, without being offended. Emphasis must be placed on schools - another soft target, especially Christian schools. Where tourism is concerned, foreign delegates for any event must not all be piled into one luxury bus - they must go in small groups until the situation improves.

Renting and safe houses

As we have seen over the past three decades, renting houses is the easiest way for ‘non-residents’ to stealthily infiltrate the desired community. Sadly in Sri Lanka, there is no proper system of renting - with consistent monitoring. Colombo is now densely populated. People give their homes on rent for monthly charges that are above average, not pausing to think why the tenant is willing to pay a higher amount. This was the case of the rented jihadist safe house in Panadura. Permanent residents in a town or village must be cautious of new neighbours - there is no other choice to filter prospective terrorists.

Vigilance is the key to prevention. In the Sammanthurai shootout, the tip-off was given to police by few alert residents about a suspicious neighbour. One must also understand the nexus between migration and terrorism. Not every migrant or refugee is a threat. But given the current scenario, there are many migrants from Islamic backgrounds in Sri Lanka. Do police have a database with all the migrants’ details, including fingerprints? In case of a terror incident, these migrants can be checked without a hassle, upholding their human dignity. Innocent migrants must be protected. We should adopt techniques in mass digital data collection from agencies such as the FBI. Apart from this, there is speculation that many from Islamic nations were found in a recent raid of a jihadist training camp in the Eastern Province. On what visa did they enter Sri Lanka? Immigration authorities must enforce strict visa regulations with immediate effect to curb jihadists entering our island.

Invisible threats

Another emerging threat in the global security arena is that of CBRN which stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear-oriented devices that can inflict large death tolls with no prior warning. Even the UN 1540 committee is working hard to control the proliferation of CBRN weapons. We cannot underestimate the local extremists – remember, some were trained overseas including Syria. Chemical-grade weapons were used by the ISIS, including sulfur mustard (mustard gas). Few in Sri Lankan jihad cells could possess this advanced deadly skill. Chemical and biological weapons are not recognised by civilians. Small portions can be carried and induced into air conditioning systems of a building with large crowds - people inhale, suffocate for a few seconds and collapse dead. In the future, imports of chemical substances must be monitored by police to ensure proper use.

The STF is already geared to meet this impending threat with its own CBRN response teams and Hazardous Materials Disposal teams (HAZMAT). The Army Engineers Regiment also has its dynamic CBRN response unit.

Psychological mind games

We have been a peace-loving nation for centuries. Our ethnic diversity enriched this country. The secondary aim of radicalised extremists is to tear at that unity which binds us. They want to sow doubt, religious hatred and suspicion. Presently, they want to create a disenfranchisement of the overall Muslim community from the rest of Sri Lanka.

There are thousands of dignified good Muslims who desire peace. The jihadists want Islamic youth to feel segregated. They want them to have a syndrome of religiously misguided “protect your community” feeling. It is the perfect position for them to ‘pitch and sell’ their radical ideology. This is evident from swords and knives found inside some mosques by the police. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus must come forward to embrace and respect law-abiding Muslims offering them comfort and safety and thus defeat the ISIS mind game.

Another future threat will be ‘lone wolf’ attacks by jihadists where individuals will try to shoot or stab innocent civilians. They may adapt to abducting high-profile citizens. Remember, Boko Haram kidnapped 200 young schoolgirls in Nigeria for ransom and began to rape them. Jihadist terrorists will try to venture into cybercrime and identity theft. Do not expect a female suicide bomber to walk veiled in black, in contrast, they may dress in revealing sexy clothing to deceive us (exploit our perceived image) and explode the bomb carried in a bag. Daily police patrolling is also important. It builds people’s trust, increasing the bonds with police. Canine sniffer teams must be deployed in the main cities daily - it will be a daunting challenge to police kennels units. It becomes imperative for all Sri Lankans to remain alert for potential threats and help the police and military to completely subdue the jihadist threat. If you see something suspicious, call the police hotline. We are a nation of gallant lions - there is no room for radicalised doctrine here. As General Colin Powell said, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”- if we stay united and positive, we can defeat our enemy. Every son and daughter of this soil must rise to protect our beloved Sri Lanka.



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