Terror Attacks in Sri Lanka – Is There a Pakistani Connection?

Terror Attacks in Sri Lanka have killed nearly 300 people in simultaneous explosions at churches and hotels. This is one of the deadliest terror attacks in Sri Lanka and international terrorists organizations are believed to have assisted the local radical groups. The question remains – who is behind the terror attacks in Sri Lanka?

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According to media reports, there were eight blasts in all, including at churches in Negombo and Kochchikade in the country’s west, and Batticaloa in the east. Three luxury hotels in the capital Colombo were also targeted.

Colombo says terror attacks in Sri Lanka were carried out by National Thowheeth Jamaath, a little-known radical Islamist group. Colombo has declared an indefinite national curfew and blocked social media networks such as Facebook and WhatsApp in order to prevent the spread of rumours that might spark intercommunal violence, as happened in March 2018 when Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim mosques, businesses, and homes.

Sri Lanka has more than 22 million inhabitants. Of these, about three-fourths are ethnic Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhist. About a sixth of Sri Lankans identify as Tamil—either of Sri Lankan or Indian descent—and are mostly Hindu. About 10 per cent of the population is Muslim, and 7 per cent Christian—a group that includes both Tamil and Sinhalese.

Religions of Sri Lanka

Religion Percentage
Buddhist 70.2
Hindu 12.6
Muslim 9.7
Roman Catholic 6.1
Other Christian 1.3
Other 0.05

Given that three of the blasts occurred at churches, timed for Easter services, at least part of the attack was aimed at the country’s more than 1.5 million Christians. The almost simultaneous blasts left no time to warn other churchgoers.

Reuters cites the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, which represents more than 200 churches and Christian organizations, as having recorded 86 incidents of discrimination, threats, and violence against Christians last year.

The other main targets seem to be people who would frequent Colombo’s hotels—usually a mix of tourists, business people, and wealthy locals. At least 30 of the dead are believed to be foreigners.

Terror Attacks in Sri Lanka – 3 Cities

The ability to launch several attacks all at once suggests a degree of sophistication, planning, funding, and reach. While authorities are still piecing together what happened, the blasts bear at least some resemblance to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which simultaneously targeted two luxury hotels, a busy railway terminal, and a Jewish outreach centre.

According to Indian intelligence, the Mumbai attacks were designed not only to cause the highest possible number of casualties but also to target groups—such as Western tourists—that would lead to the greatest amount of international media coverage.

One of the 2008 attackers was apprehended, and the others were successfully identified, leading authorities in India to declare the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group responsible. But there are several differences with Sunday’s attacks in Sri Lanka, not least the fact that they were spread out across the country instead of concentrated in a single city, and that unlike in Mumbai, no hostages were taken.

Many defence experts have suggested a connection with the terror group ISIS and Pakistan based radical terror organizations like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) but these cannot be independently confirmed by the EurAsian Times.

Terror Attacks in Sri Lanka – Prior Warnings?

On April 11, a top Sri Lankan police official reportedly issued an advisory warning of potential suicide attacks on churches. (This letter has not been independently verified by Foreign Policy.) In that advisory, Deputy Inspector General Priyalal Dassanayake wrote that the radical Islamist group called National Thowheeth Jamaath was planning nationwide attacks.

On Monday, Sri Lankan Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne addressed a press conference and pointed to outside help: “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged that some information about a planned attack had been circulating. “We must also look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” he said. Wickremesinghe’s comments could be interpreted as a criticism of President Maithripala Sirisena, the commander of the country’s security forces.