By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
The bombing spree on Easter Sunday consisted of eight explosions between 8.45 AM and 2.15 PM in three churches, three luxury hotels, a tourist inn, and housing complex. The death toll amounted 253 including 45 children and 44 foreigners. Over 500 were injured. Nine suicide bombers too perished. A further narration of the explosions itself is unnecessary as it has been adequately reported.
At the outset, let it be stated, the government failed in its duty. Ignoring the warning given by the Indians is but the tip of the iceberg. It is not known to what extent the various intelligence agencies of the country had previous knowledge of the terrorist group the carried out the suicide bombings. However, it certainly has much to do with these agencies being constrained by the present government from carrying out its designated functions. The Geneva Resolution and appeasement politics were crucial factors.
Besides the government, the local Muslim community too must carry its fair share of the blame.
The bombings have been attributed to the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), a local radical Islamist group. Mohamed Cassim Zahran, a Sri Lankan national of Islamic faith has been identified as its founder leader. He unusually perished in the blast at the Shangri La Hotel. The actual act of suicide bombing is usually reserved for cannon fodder rankers and not leaders of terror groups. Amaq News Agency claimed the attacks to be ISIS-inspired, a terror group calling for a global re-unification of Muslims.
Sri Lanka first became aware of radicalized Muslim youth when former Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi warned in early 2016, 36 Muslim men had left the country to fight for ISIS.
Former Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, in November 2016 informed Parliament of 32 Sri Lankan Muslims joining ISIL in Syria. “All these (Muslims) are not from ordinary families. These people are from the families which are considered as well-educated and elite” he said, adding that the government was aware of some foreigners coming to Sri Lanka to spread what he called Islamic extremism.
Rajapakshe was condemned by representatives of the Muslim community who complained of racism and demanded evidence. The National Security Council and Cabinet spokesperson Minister Rajitha Senaratne both refuted the former Justice Minister’s claim. So did NM Ameen, President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL).
Nay Sayers received the evidence they wanted on Easter Sunday. Regrettably, it was not they who paid the price.
Once the atrocity was committed, the moderate Muslims were quick to claim, it was the work of a small group of radicalized misguided persons. Sheik MIM Rizwi Mufti, President of the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulama (ACJU), the apex body of Islamic scholars in Sri Lanka immediately claimed, he provided Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando with all details of chief bomber Zahran and had urged Fernando to arrest the NTJ leader.
He further claimed, “I am the first to reveal the presence of IS terrorists in Sri Lanka way back in 2014.”
If that be the case, why did he not support Rajapakshe’s claim in 2016? Despite scanning the internet, this writer did not come across a single news item of Rizwi Mufti endorsing the former Minister’s assertion.
Did Rizwi Mufti share his invaluable information with the community’s elected representatives? Why did Ministers Kabir Hashim, Rauf Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen, MHA Haleem, Faizer Mustapha, and AHM Fowzi not endorse and add legitimacy to Rajapakse’s warning?
Were these Ministers so out of touch with their own community? Is it that they were working at crossroads with ACJU? Or were they fearful of earning the community’s wrath?
Some of the startling revelations in recent news items are summarized below.
MRM Malik, Director of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department, disclosed there were more than 500 unregistered mosques in the country in addition to the nearly 2,400 registered mosques.
MHA Haleem, Muslim Religious Affairs Minister, refuted the allegation made by SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera of having issued 440 permits to NTJ across the country. Would he tell the nation, what he did to prevent the illegal construction of 500 mosques?
According to Minister Champika Ranawaka, 800 foreign Islamic clerics in the country have entered the country with tourist visas. They are teaching in Madrassas
A leading local news channel recently aired a news item of an Egyptian cleric being detained and led away by Police. He had been in the country for four years but did not possess a passport.
50 Turkish Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETO) members were in Sri Lanka. The Turkish Embassy in Colombo had supposedly handed over a list of their names and passport numbers to the Defense Ministry.
Newspapers are awash with weapons, explosives, and detonators found by Police and armed forces raiding parties. The visual of 40 swords in their original packing, Kiris knives and several uniforms similar to those used by the Army found at a mosque at Palliyaweediya in Slave Island is a case in point. Yet Religious Affairs Minister Haleem would have us believe they may have been used to clear shrubs surrounding mosques.
It is an as bad a response as Hemasiri Fernando’s dimwitted statement to BBC.
There are many news items related to those close to senior Muslim politicians such as Rishad Bathiudeen, Azath Salley and MLAM Hizbullah having close links to NTJ. Some such persons have been arrested. A few have been released on bail.
Minister Rauf Hakeem, Faizer Mustapha MP and AHM Fowzi MP have been extremely quiet. Mujibur Rahman MP after an initial outburst has gone silent. They have all gone gobsmack.
They should all realize, those they employ as coordinating secretaries, secretaries, drivers, cooks or any other positions are invariably privy to a lot of sensitive information of much use to any terrorist movement.
It is no different to the privileged information the Dealer son-in-law would have gathered by living together with his Central Bank Governor father-in-law.
As we now observe, most of the suicide bombers were from middle and upper-middle-class families.
Most local Muslims are moderate in their views. Nevertheless, they are a relatively closed community, and many will refrain from reporting details of extremists in their midst to the authorities for fear of being ostracized from the community.
The Imam of Kattankudi mosque has refused to bury the terrorist bodies in the mosque compound. Yet he and community elders remained silent while many moderates were chased away a few years ago by the likes of Zaharan. They also did nothing to prevent the town’s Arabization with date palm trees, road name boards in Arabic, a total ban on outlets selling alcohol and club, etc.
The bombings may have been planned and executed by a small group. However, by no stretch of imagination can it be accepted, the appeasement rather than confrontation policy within the community at large worked directly or indirectly in favor of the planners and executors of the campaign.
The only way over 500 illegal mosques could have been constructed and hundreds of foreign Islamic clerics brought into the country is because many in the community including moderates have wittingly or unwittingly extended their support. Is it conceivable, mosques, illegal or otherwise can be constructed without contributions from the community (besides foreign funding)? Is it also conceivable, a devotee could visit a mosque every day for prayers, meet up with foreign clerics for extended periods and not wonder how they had arrived and remained in the country indefinitely?
Neither the ACJU or any other moderates’ organizations are on record complaining to Hemasiri Fernando or any other of illegal mosques and foreign preachers.
Muslim politicians promise Muslim votes and obtain ministerial positions based on their need to look after the interests of their community. Such ministers should have raised the information related to ISIS fighters and NTJ in Parliament thus compelling a myopic and inept government into action. They must stop appeasing extremists by remaining silent.
Nevertheless, they would be the first to scream racism in case of state intervention.
Only by joining the government and openly supporting its efforts in stamping out terrorism can they be of real service to both their country and community.
The Sri Lankan government for its part must at least now demonstrate its impartiality by concluding legal proceedings against the 2018 Teldeniya/Digana/Kandy rioters.
This writer went to the Super Market on May 01st to buy some beef and found a Notice Board stating meat sales were prohibited. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. The 225 imbeciles in the House by Diyawannawa have had no time to draft laws to deal with Sri Lankans joining foreign terror organizations. But somebody had the time to decide and make May Day a meatless day. Talk about priorities!