Countering extremism need of the hour | Daily News
Second Anniversary of Easter Sunday Terror Attacks:

Countering extremism need of the hour

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith reacts as he visited the site of one of the bomb blasts.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith reacts as he visited the site of one of the bomb blasts.

Today, the country marks the second anniversary of the deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks which targeted several churches and hotels killing over 250 people and injuring almost 500 others.

Even today, those affected by the deadly attacks are trying to get their lives back on track and deal with the trauma of this tragedy.

The Islamic State (IS) was accused of having links to the attacks while the former Government was also accused of failing to prevent the bombings.

The first explosion went off during Easter services at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo. Three high-end hotels were also targeted: Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La Hotel and The Kingsbury.

At St. Anthony’s Shrine which was the site of the first blast, more than 50 people were killed. The second blast took place at St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, where over 100 people were killed. Then in Batticaloa, a bomb blast 15 minutes later killed 30 people at the Protestant evangelical Zion Church.

Three five-star hotels in Colombo were attacked around the same time as the churches: the Shangri-La Hotel, Cinnamon Grand Hotel and The Kingsbury.

The bombing at the Shangri-La Hotel took place at 08:57 during breakfast in the Table One Restaurant on the hotel’s third floor, which was reportedly full of foreign tourists.

The suicide bomber who struck at the Taprobane restaurant in the Cinnamon Grand had checked into the hotel with a false name the night before, claiming to be on a business trip. The bomber joined the queue for the breakfast buffet the next morning and detonated explosives strapped to his back as he was about to be served.

The reception hall of a guest house, Tropical Inn in Dehiwela was also attacked with two deaths reported. Investigations later revealed that the bomber’s original target had being the Taj Samudra hotel. CCTV footage given to the media by the hotel shows the bomber attempting to detonate his vest three times in the dining area and upon failing, leaving the premises at 8.49 am.

Another blast occurred later that same day when police stormed the house of one of the suspects in Dematagoda, killing three police officers and four others, including the pregnant suicide bomber, whose three children were killed in the blast as well. The woman who blew herself up was the wife of Ilham Ibrahim, the Shangri-La suicide bomber, and the sister-in-law of Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim, the Cinnamon Grand suicide bomber.

According to international terrorism expert Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Sri Lanka’s security was compromised by its leaders during the Yahapalanaya regime. “Rather than curbing Islamization and Arabization, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe advocated a reconciliation model of governance to enlist the Muslim vote. Similarly, instead of countering separatism, Mangala Samaraweera delisted LTTE entities to enlist the Tamil vote. As Prime Minister of the Yahapalanaya regime, Wickremesinghe instructed the Directorate of Military Intelligence to dismantle the operational capabilities designed and developed to detect terrorists and disrupt attacks.

Instead of securing Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe took guidance from the UNHRC, human rights bodies, Western capitals and Western diplomats in Colombo lobbied by the LTTE and TNA to investigate the Security Forces. With the restrictions placed on the Security Forces and the lack of direction and guidance by both Wickremesinghe and Sirisena, the birth, growth and attacks by the Islamic State were inevitable and imminent.”

Dr. Gunaratna, Honorary Professor at the Kotalawela Defence University said that Zahran Hashim’s aim was to disrupt the unity between the Muslims and non-Muslims by staging the Easter Sunday massacre on April 21, 2019. He noted that a religious fanatic, Zahran believed that Sri Lanka will descend into chaos. According to Dr. Gunaratna, to prevent the polarisation and fragmentation of Sri Lankan society, every Sri Lankan should work hard to create a safe space for all communities.

“First, Muslim leaders instead of criticizing others should start to reform their own religious space. As gatekeepers to protect the religious space, they failed. The ideologies and practices inappropriate for multicultural living – Salafi, Wahhabi and Jamaate Islami ideologies – took firm root. Although the mastermind Naufer and most of members of the network have been detained, the ecosystem that facilitated and enabled the attack is intact. They must break the radicalisation pipeline that is still intact,” Dr. Gunaratna said.

“Second, until Easter, Muslims were respected as a model community. Muslim leaders and elites should restore the disrupted relationship with Sinhalese and Tamils. They must reject Middle Eastern and sub-continental ideologies and dress codes and start to treasure their own 1,400-year Sri Lankan Muslim heritage,” the terrorism expert said.

“Third, Muslims should acknowledge that religious extremism created separation between the communities. The high point was the Easter Attacks. Acknowledging this fact explained in four fact-finding inquiries is the starting point to build a safe and secure Muslim community and a Sri Lankan society. Rather than deny, Muslim leaders should start to reverse the ongoing radicalisation by developing a zero-tolerance against exclusivism, extremism and terrorism,” he added.

Meanwhile, one of the major concerns among those affected by the bombings is the slow pace in the investigations where those responsible have yet not been brought to book. There are allegations levelled against the current regime too that the promised action is slow and not effective.

However, when questioned about the current status of the investigations and the government’s commitment to bringing those responsible before the law, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Dr. Sarath Weerasekera said the police had done their part and now the matter is with the Attorney General (AG).

“The Colombo Crime Division, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) carried out the investigations into the attacks targeting eight locations. We have already handed over eight files to the AG’s Department in respect of the eight incidents to indict 32 people on murder and conspiracy charges. However, the AG has been waiting for the Presidential Commission reports to be released to move forward. The Presidential Commission report was also released about a month ago and now it is up to the AG to file the cases. The police did their part and no one else can file the cases except the AG and the ball is in his court now. In addition there are 75 persons under detention orders and as their investigations progress, we will send their information to the AG. However, as far as the main suspects of the attacks are concerned, we have completed the investigations and sent the files to the AG,” he said.