Serial blasts on Easter Sunday on April 21 in Sri Lanka sent jitters all through the globe. These suicide bomb blasts occurred within a span of about 30 minutes in three Churches where a large number of devotees had congregated and three luxury hotels where foreign tourists frequented in large numbers. Well-coordinated blasts killed no less than 350 people and injured hundreds. About eleven Indian citizens succumbed to death. These blasts were targeted against the Christian community and foreign tourists, who are vital to the economy. It reminded of well-planned serial blasts in Mumbai in 1993 and 2006.
Sri Lanka declared Emergency all over the island to prevent retaliatory mob attacks by local Sinhalese Christian fringe groups on the Muslim enclaves. Police swung into action to track down the mastermind behind the blasts. Two truckloads of explosives were tracked. It was also anticipated that such coordinated action, with ample supply of ammunition, could not have occurred but for the transnational support. Simultaneously our National Investigation Agency (NIA) and local police from the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu swung into action to identify the culprits. Two organisations, National Thowheedh Jamaath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim, were identified to have carried out these terror attacks. By the end of the week, about 140 suspects were being tracked for the terrorism-related activities. The mastermind of the attack was identified as firebrand cleric Zarhan Hashim, who was one of the suicide bombers.
The hideout of other suicide bombers was accidentally found by Muslim youth. The youth alerted the locals. After terrorists refused to come out of their hideouts, a battle raged between Security forces and the terrorists followed by two suicide bomb blasts wherein their family members were killed. One of the suicide bombers was a Muslim woman who blew herself up with her kids. Investigations pointed to the involvement of a rich family of MY Ibrahim, known as the ‘spice king’ of Sri Lanka. His sons possibly planned these massive attacks over long time, putting enormous money and resources, often travelling abroad.
It came to light that the Sri Lankan Government was alerted about possible terror attacks but the warnings went unheeded. The cause of ignored warnings was the result of a political feud among the top echelon of power which descended from the Sri Lankan President and the Prime Minister. It divided the Government machinery along feudal lines, and apathy crept in. The President openly acknowledged that intelligence reports were not shared with him. The State Minister of Defence acknowledged that it was a major lapse not to heed to the repeated warnings of attack from certain groups (The Indian Express April 25). Even the local Muslim organisations had brought nefarious activities to the notice of the local authorities. Our intelligence agencies had alerted SL on the imminent threats early April, and attacks on churches just two hours before the blasts. Here is an example of stark bureaucratic bungle which compromised the national security. Although it was known that several ISIS recruits had returned from the West Asia, they were not arrested. As the Prime Minister conceded, they could not be arrested as joining a foreign terrorist organisation is not against the law of the land and stated that he does not rule out the possibility of further attacks. As expected few heads in the Government echelon rolled including the Police Chief, Defence Secretary. It was apathy and sheer negligence that resulted in these blasts. A reason being forwarded is that Sri Lanka was a soft target on account of legal impropriety. Residual LTTE modules, tonnes of explosives available in the country which faced decades of internecine war, some former cadres of the terrorist organisations may be behind the planning and execution of these blasts. It was the total failure of the local command that made the task of plotters easy (The Indian Express April 27).
BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje's letter to Rajnath Singh
ISIS came late claiming credit for attacks. Lately, on April 30, a video clip was shown on many channels where a person looking like Abu Bakr Baghdadi speaking behalf of ISIS owned up to the blasts and justified these as revenge against the European Crusaders in the modern times. ISIS did not provide any evidence of direct involvement in the blasts. It cannot be overlooked that about a year ago, in his last message, Baghdadi appealed to his followers to initiate terror attacks locally even as lone wolf wherever they would be located and carry on jihad against the infidels. Sri Lanka blasts can be discerned on the background of that appeal.
NIA investigations have confirmed that firebrand cleric Zarhan Hashim was known to be inciting youth since long. He spent time in Kerala, widely travelled in Bharat before returning back, to be able to coordinate without hindrance among the active members in Sri Lanka. During an encounter, one of the terrorist speaking in Tamil threw currency notes at the locals to divert their attention. There are sizeable numbers of sleeper modules in Tamil Nadu drawing inspiration from the ISIS. These are likely to become active in the event of neglect. They can wreak havoc here.
There are three aspects from which these acts of terrorism can be countered. These activities can’t be run without active financial support involving substantial amounts. For a common man, are these not traceable so that curbs can be put on these transactions? What prevents the financial institutions from keeping the Governments in the know of these? People involved in these transactions can be identified to prevent further attacks.
Another most important factor is the supply of arms and ammunition to these terrorist outfits. It has been a major failure all over the world. There is hardly any country which has not suffered from terror attacks. Almost all the countries have consistently failed to curb the inflow of arms and ammunition. We find Naxalites over many decades have been getting almost uninterrupted supply of arms and ammunition and latest techniques of remote control mechanism. There is no hope at global level unless all countries come forward to join hands to keep strict vigil on the movement of arms and ammunition. A rogue State like Pakistan known as Islamic terror hub has received arms and financial aid time and again. It directed these supplies for aiding and inciting terrorist activities in neighbouring countries. As long as individual countries do not stop promoting the terrorist cause to promote temporary gains, it is not possible to really bring down the extent of terrorist activities spread in many countries.
It is to be noted that the suicide bombers in the SL were highly educated and came from middle and upper-class families. They were radicalised by the audio-visual propaganda easily accessible on the ISIS websites and individuals who spew venom against non-believers, cultivating kafirophobia. In one video clip circulating in social media, mastermind Zarhan Hashim, his two brothers and father were seen discussing martyrdom urging their followers to kill non-believers calling for
all-out war i.e. jihad. (The Hindu April 29). It is sort of kafirophobic philosophy however anti-humanistic. But the fact is that such propaganda continues to motivate hundreds of Muslim youth to take to the suicidal bombing. There is an urgent need to counter the ISIS indoctrinated kafirophobic radicalisation philosophy on the rational and social grounds such that those inclined towards religious learning do not succumb to develop the suicidal mindscape. Need is to develop alternative humanitarian, philosophical narrative such that human spirit of compassion prevails.
Riyas Aboobacker arrested by NIA in connection with Sri Lankan terror attacks
Palakkad native Riyas Aboobacker (29) was arrested, on April 29, by NIA after taking into custody in connection with the links with Sri Lanka blasts. Reports suggest NIA has traced his links with the Kasaragod-based IS recruitment. Abubaker Siddiq and Ahmed Arafat, both Kasaragod natives, were taken into custody a couple of days before.
NIA has found that Riyas is linked with IS terrorist Abdul Rasheed Abdulla who lives underground. He has admitted this, says the press release issued by NIA. Riyas carries out online link with Abdul Khayyum, the accused in the Valapattanam IS case. It is also alleged that Rias has watched and propagated the videos of the speeches of Sahran Hashim, the mastermind behind the SL blasts. NIA informs, Riyas had admitted that he wished to carry out suicide blasts in Kerala. He will be produced before the NIA court on April 30. He has reportedly said during the NIA interrogation that he got instructions from the Keralites who fled to Afghanistan and Syria to join IS. It is reported that the IS recruitments in Kerala are as per the instructions from IS terrorist Adulla Rashid, a Kasargod native. NIA inquired into the links between Riyas and Rashid and the exchanges of messages between them. There are reports that NIA raids continue in Kerala in connection with the SL blasts. Ten men from different districts of Kerala are being interrogated. It is found that they have links with the IS sleeper cells involved in recruiting for the IS. They are taking the recruits abroad for employment and then take them to the IS camps. NIA has also interrogated few suspects in Kochi and Tamil Nadu.
Reports from Kundara, Kollam, states that one man was taken into custody during the raid. Several places in the districts of Ernaakulam, Palakkat, Kozikode, Kannur and Kasaragode are under the surveillance of Cental Intelligence. Kochi and Chennai units of NIA carried out raids in Velloor, Chennai, Tirunelveli, Madura and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Surveillance has been beefed up in places where migrant labour force lives in good numbers. It is in the light of the rumours that Kashmiris have moved to several parts of the state with forged documents.
Kerala link to Islamic terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka? NIA conducts raids in three places, arrests six
In the backdrop of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, the National Investigations Agency (NIA) carried out raids mainly at three places in Kerala, two in Kasaragod and one in Palakkad. NIA also carried out searches at private houses and questioned three suspects. The three Muslim youth, who are in touch with Islamic State recruiters, are believed to have links with those who left for Sri Lanka and other countries to join the ISIS.
The NIA had busted an ISIS module in Kasaragod last year and arrested a 25-year-old Salafi terrorist Habeeb Rehman. Further investigation revealed that several other Muslim youngsters from the state had left to join the ISIS. The NIA had arrested six for suspected links with the IS, including R Ashiq, Ismail, Salavuddin, Jafar Sadiq Ali, Shahul Hameed, Shamsuddin.
The suspects were found to be in touch with Abdul Rashid Abdulla alias Abu Isa, a Kozhikode youth who had joined the IS in 2016. “The three persons are suspected to have links with some of the accused persons in the 2016 case,” NIA IG Alok Mittal explained to media.
In the raids, the NIA has recovered many digital devices including mobile phones, SIM cards, memory cards, pen drives. The agency has also retrieved diaries with handwritten notes in Arabic and Malayalam, DVDs of Zakir Naik, untitled DVDs, CDs with religious speeches, books authored by Zakir Naik and Syed Kutheb.
According to Sri Lankan military sources, Zahran Hashim, the mastermind of the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, spent substantial time in Kerala and other south Indian states. Investigators identified Hashim as the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), the Islamic terrorist outfit that executed the blasts. The NIA had found a video of Zahran Hashim, suspected to have been recorded in Tamil Nadu, on the phone of one of the suspects held in Coimbatore. In the video, Hashim reportedly talked about ‘a big job he was about to pull off, without any details, and exhorted Muslims from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka to fight for the cause of Islam’.
Many of the ISIS recruits and ultra-Salafis had visited various locations in Sri Lanka before reaching their final destinations in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. In 2016, there were reports that ‘Sri Lanka was emerging as the favourite destination of a section of Malayalee Salafis who are on the pursuit of 'real Islam' and believe that scholars in Kerala lack correct understanding of the religion’.