EASTER SUNDAY BOMB BLAST IN SRI LANKA Part 2
Posted on May 6th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Revised 15.5.19

The brilliant execution of the Easter Sunday bomb blasts clearly indicated a foreign hand said experts.  There is an international force behind this, said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. A foreign entity, most likely a foreign state or state intelligence agency was behind the attacks. The locals are merely pawns, said analysts.

The target selection and attack type indicated that this could not have been carried out by a local group without outside involvement,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a specialist at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a counterterrorism research group based in London. Given the level of sophistication, this was probably the work of al-Qaeda or Islamic State, announced analysts.  

Therefore let us look at al-Qaeda” and Islamic State”. From 2007 the United States, with the help of the CIA, has been arming, funding, and supporting various Muslim terrorist organizations. Al-Qaeda, under Osama Bin Laden, was developed by the USA in 2003 as a counter to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. USA’s role in creating al-Qaeda is well known. It is not a secret. It is now a part of mainstream American history. CIA’s role in this is recorded in first person accounts of USA foreign policy. These are readily available on the Internet. 

Al-Qaeda” became Islamic Emirate of Iraq” which thereafter became today’s Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS). ISIS is nothing more than a name change for al-Qaeda” said analysts. The movement became ISIS in 2013 under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdad. The movement was supported and developed in Turkey, a NATO country, with arms and funds from CIA, routed through Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  It was officially known as Islamic State (IS) or by its Arabic language acronym, Daesh.

Al-Qaeda and ISIS follow the Wahabi or Salafi ideology of Islam. Wahabism is the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Wahabism is disliked by other Muslims.  Wahabi is an extreme sect which supports war against anyone and everyone who is outside their brand of Islam.  Wahabism was developed in Saudi Arabia and exported to other countries from there. Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars over several decades propagating the Wahabi version of militant Islam, said experts.

Saudi Arabia started  this, because   USA asked Saudi Arabia to help counter  Soviet Union influence during the Cold War, said  Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a confidential interview with Washington Post in 2018 .  Saudi Arabia’s Western allies had urged the country to invest in mosques and madrasas overseas, to prevent Russia getting into Muslim countries. However, Today, Saudi funding is    done mostly by Saudi “foundations,” rather than Saudi government, he said.

 The Wahabi movement in Sri Lanka is also supported by Saudi Arabia.  Wahhabis in Sri Lanka work through Thawheed organizations and their madrasas. There are around 600 foreigners teaching at these madrasas today. The first Thawheed organization, Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamat (SLTJ) was founded in 1947 by Hameed Al Makry in Paragahadeniya, (Faslan and Vanniasinkam Fracturing community. ICES 2015 p 15).   Thowheed Jamath has prayer centers. They are not Jummah mosques but they are numerous and are established in ordinary buildings.

  After the Easter bombings, SLTJ strenuously denied that they had anything to do with the Easter Sunday bombings. .”Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamat would like to point out that Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamat has no connection whatsoever with the bombings and has no connection with the organization suspected to have

[been]

involved in the incident,”  it said in a statement.

However, Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamat spawned several breakaway groups. These had their bases in Kattankudy, Batticaloa, Dehiwela, Dematagoda and elsewhere.  There are six Thawheed groups in Sri Lanka at the moment, said Rohan Guneratne in April 2019. These are ‘cult groups’. The most important of these is the National Thawheed Jamaat.

National Thawheed Jamaat (NJT) which carried out the Easter Sunday bombing is a   Wahabi    organization, set up in 2011. It is a splinter group of the Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamaat. The most active branch is the National Thawheed Jamaat in Kattankudy. NJT has been described as a right-wing Islamic extremist outfit with a presence mainly in the eastern province of Sri Lanka. It preaches   ‘Wahabi’ Islamic teachings to its followers. It aggressively promotes Sharia law, building of mosques, and makes its women wear the burqa which hides the whole face except the eyes.

The person in charge of spreading extremist Islamic ideology in Sri Lanka was Mohammad Zaharan Hashim. Zaharan used social media to publicly call for the death of non-Muslims. He has been lecturing everywhere. Zaharan and his brother had conducted lectures for youths in mosque set up in the house of Kuliyapitiya coordinator of the NTJ.  A moulavi, who was a lecturer at the Islamic Religious Centre in Hettipola said Zaharan had lectured there.

Zaharan  had foreign contacts.”All his videos have been uploaded from India. He used boats of smugglers to travel back and forth from southern India, said an informant. Hashim was considered a menace by the local Muslim community. He had caused trouble at Kattankudy’s Thawheed mosque. Zahran went underground in 2017 March after a clash in Kattankudy town. For years, Sri Lanka’s Muslim community had warned authorities about Zahran Hashim, said analysts in 2019.

The Rajapaksa regime, unlike Yahapalana took note of extremist Muslim activity.  In 2011 Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, then Secretary of Defence had set up a military intelligence cell of 5,000 people, some of them with Arabic language skills, to track the extremist Muslims in the Eastern province.  This was closed down by Yahapalana.

 In 2012, 161 foreign Islamic missionaries who were in Sri Lanka to preach Islam were ordered to leave the country. Most left, as the matter was handled very firmly by the authorities. Majority of them were Pakistani, Indian and from the Gulf. They had not followed proper visa procedures and had not told the government what their real purpose was. There had been widespread allegations from sections of the Muslims that these foreign preachers were mainly preaching a radical Islam that was hostile even to Muslims following a more moderate form of Islam.

In 2013 Gotabhaya Rajapaksa stated that several Muslim extremists (fundamentalist) groups were active in the east.  These fundamentalist groups are operating under the guise of Islamic sects and are conducting religious discourses, he said. Terror groups such as ‘Osama’ ‘Knox’ and ‘Jetty ‘which operated in pre 2010 period seem to have become active again.

In 2014 a group called the “Peace Loving Moderate Muslims in Sri Lanka” published a statement in Daily  Mirror denouncing NTJ and warning that it was “fast becoming a cancer” within Sri Lanka’s Muslim community.

The statement warned that members of the group were making mosque attendance compulsory, forcing a strict implementation of Islamic law above Sri Lankan law and forcing women to cover their faces and wear long robes in place of traditional saris.”We fear that these activities. If left unchecked by the authorities would create a situation in which the majority of Muslims in Sri Lanka may have to face the wrath of other religions,” the statement said prophetically.

In 2014, Champika Ranawake said that radical elements of Muslims are now entering Sri Lanka from Malaysia, Pakistan, India, especially Tamilnadu. Thawheed Jamat movement is here and our local extremists Muslims have participated in conventions held in Tamilnadu. They are trying to destabilize the country and turn it into another Afghanistan.

ISIS had a brief period of glory in the Middle East starting from 2014. It gained global prominence in 2014 by its capture of Mosul in Iraq. In 2016 it held a large area extending from western Iraq to eastern Syria, containing an estimated 8 to 12 million people, where it enforced Sharia law.  It looked very strong and promising.  Sri Lanka Muslims were impressed. They were encouraged to go and join.

Sri Lanka’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) first learned that there were locals fighting with the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria from Israeli intelligence in 2013. 37-year-old school principal from Galewela called Mohamed Muhsin Sharhaz Nilam had left for Mecca in mid-2013. Nilam  who was given  the name Abu Shurayh As-Silani  in Syria died in an air raid in 2015. His elder brother went to Syria first. Nilam followed with his wife, six children, wife’s parents and two of his wife’s brothers.Initially, there were 36 Sri Lankans from three families in Syria. This later went above 40.

In 2016, Wijedasa Rajapaksha, Minister for Justice said in Parliament that 32 Sri Lankan Muslims from ‘well-educated and elite’ families had joined ISIS in Syria. They have been influenced by foreign extremist teachers at Muslim international schools in Beruwela, Kalmunai, Kala Eliya and Kurunegala. He also said that some Jihad groups functioning in Sri Lanka have connections with ISIS.  All this was strongly objected to by Muslim MPs. AHM Azwer denied this and asked for the names of the four wealthy families. Rauff Hakeem   said that there were no such teachers in schools.

From July 2017, ISIS started losing the territory it was ruling over in the Middle East. In March 2019, ISIS lost its last sliver of territory, which was in Syria. Experts then warned that the defeat of ISIS in the Middle East did not mean that ISIS was dead or defeated.  ISIS was operational in 18 countries across the world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, with “aspiring branches” in Mali, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.

ISIS is now moving to Africa and Asia, analysts said. There will now be a ‘pop-up’ ISIS emerging   there, experts warned, often in states where they can exploit a vacuum. Analysts specifically warned of   attacks in South-east Asia. Foreign fighters from countries such as Sri Lanka will now be returning home, they said. Military Intelligence Director, Brigadier Chula Kodituwakku said that Sri Lanka is   included in the ISIS map as part of its territory. 

In 2019, months before the blast, a delegation from the All Ceylon Jamiathul Ulema, the main organization of Muslim clerics, met President Sirisena to warn him and the government of the impending danger from terrorist groups backing the ISIS. They named Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zahran, as the leader of the local group and gave a detailed memorandum listing their activities.  President Sirisena handed over the information to Secretary of Defence, Fernando, who it appears, did nothing about it.

The Easter Sunday bomb blasts were definitely the work of ISIS said    Rohan Guneratne, a specialist in terrorism studies. There is a heavy ISIS buildup in Sri Lanka now, he said.  There’s no reason for local extremist groups to attack churches, and tourists, said Amarnath Amarasingam. But ISIS has a history of staging attacks against Christians on holy days, notably Christmas and Easter. They see this as a historical struggle between Christianity and Islam, dating back to the Crusades, The question of why hotels were included has not been satisfactorily answered by the analysts.

 It is now accepted that the Easter Sunday bomb blasts was done by ISIS using local cadres. The local Muslims who carried out the attack on behalf of ISIS were from National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) and the Jamiyathul Millana Ibrahim Fi Sellani (JMI). Zahran Cassim head of NTJ has been the mastermind of all the attacks.

Jamiyathul Millana Ibrahim Fi Sellani (JMI) has started in 2015.  In 2015 Sri Lankan intelligence found an outpouring of support for ISIS among some Sri Lankan social media users. Soft copies of ISIS propaganda was shared mainly on chatting platforms, particularly Telegram. The users also created their own applications with secret enclosures within that space  this was how the grooming predominantly took place, intelligence sources said. This group became Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI), led by a man named Umair from Colombo 10. Some JMI members  had wanted to migrate with their families to Syria.

A key player in JMI  was a man in Aluthgama named Adhil who was a computer wizard.  Adhil, like others in this movement, was young and well-educated. He adopted different personas on the internet. it later transpired that this Adhil Ameez  was known to Indian intelligence The Indian investigators had been monitoring Aadhil since 2016 and named him in two charge sheets filed in Indian courts.

Jamiyathul Millana Ibrahim Fi Sellani (JMI) is  an  organization known only to the Defence sector. It had  has started in 2015.  In 2015 Sri Lankan intelligence found an outpouring of support for ISIS among some Sri Lankan social media users. Soft copies of ISIS propaganda was shared mainly on chatting platforms, particularly Telegram. The users also created their own applications with secret enclosures within that space this was how the grooming predominantly took place, intelligence sources said. A key player was a man in Aluthgama named Adhil who was a computer wizard.  Adhil, like others in this movement, was young and well-educated. He adopted different personas on the internet.  This group became Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI), led by a man named Umair from Colombo 10. Some JMI members had wanted to migrate with their families to Syria.

Zahran Cassim head of NTJ has been the mastermind of all the attacks. Experts said that  for such simultaneous bomb attacks in different locations, a large team was required. Even a single successful suicide bombing requires a logistical tail” involving many people, such as recruiters, who need to radicalize and maintain the resolve of the bombers, skilled bomb makers, and operatives to survey targets. This is a formidable undertaking only accomplished by people with considerable expertise and a good organizational network, they said. The event would have been planned months ahead.

 There are about 140 individuals linked to ISIS in Sri Lanka, said the Directorate of Military Intelligence. National Thawheed Jamath is the local branch of the ISIS. Evidence of payments from ISIS has emerged. ISIS has cells in places such as Kalmunai, Mawanella, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa and Puttalam. ISIS CDs, ISIS literature, ISIS uniforms and ISIS posters were found in many places during army investigations. There was an ISIS center in a housing scheme at Kotahena. CDs which contained lectures and ideologies of ISIS terrorists were found there.

The bombings were done by a band of nine, well-educated suicide bombers, including a woman, from well-to-do families.  Zaharan Hashim, it is said, had worked for months in private chat rooms to persuade them six easterEaster Sunday bombers to sacrifice themselves. At least five foreign trained cadres have been assigned to each suicide cadre. They included an electronics expert, a chemical expert and a bomb maker.

Intelligence estimates place the suicide cadre team strength at around 170. Some had been trained in Syria. Training the others in Sri Lanka had taken months and was done in complete secrecy. They have trained in four houses at Sainthamaru, Addalachchenai, Samanthurai and Nintavur.

Unlike in the JVP and the LTTE, whole families were involved in ISIS related activities. Fathers, sons, brothers, wives, sisters were all in it together. The families were not poor  either. Two of the suicide bombers were the sons of spice trader Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, ‘one of Sri Lanka’s richest men’. His two sons, Imsath (33) and Ilham (31) were the two suicide bombers of Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels. Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim’s estate in Vanathavillu was the main centre for the bomb blast project.

When the police went to Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim’s home in Dematagoda, Ilham’s wife Fathima   set off a bomb killing herself, her three children and three policemen. The house was probably an operational cell of the ISIS. It was booby trapped with explosives. The police now suspect the involvement of other family members and are investigating the extended family.

An interesting feature in these ISIS bombings is that all those who took the initiative in the Easter Sunday projects were made to die. Zaharan died at Shangri La, the two sons of spice trader Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim also died in the hotel blasts.

Some idea of the planning for these bomb blasts is emerging. Investigators have found that the Easter Sunday’s massacres were linked to the three-day long incidents that occurred in Mawanella area from December 23.  2018. Buddhist shrines and Buddha statues were damaged in four different places in Mawanella – Randiwela Junction, Miriskudu Handiya, Hingula and Lindulawatte in the Pahala Kadugannawa region. This was after Zahran had preached hate and exhorted those who attended Friday’s Jumma prayers to attack Buddha statues in temples and crosses in churches.

Villagers caught two attackers. Six more suspects were arrested. They were members of an extremist Islamic group and were being trained to carry out violent attacks against those of other faiths, reported the media. The Mawanella group had been led by two brothers identified as Siddiq Abdulla and Shahid Abdul Haq.  They went missing. Their father Fazir Mohamed Ibrahim was arrested and released.

The telephone numbers found in a mobile phone of a suspect in the Mawanella group led the investigators Lacktowatta estate, to a 75-acre coconut plantation in Wanathavillu, Puttalam, owned by spice trader Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim. They found 150 kilogrammes of explosives and 100 detonators. It is now believed that the Easter Sunday attackers were trained on this coconut estate. The explosive devices were prepared at Colossus Copper, a factory owned by Imsath and Ilham, the sons of  Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim. The police also arrested four suspects.  Two of them had been in the team that defaced Buddha statues in Mawanella. 

 Following the seizure of the supplies in Wanathavillu a fresh stockpile was put together in Sainthamaruthu, Kalmunai, near Hashim’s home-town, inside a jihadist hideout.  Following a tip-off that people linked to the attacks were in the town,  security forces tried to storm the house. A one-hour long gun battle ensued. Three men inside then set off explosives that killed themselves, three women and   six children. Fifteen people including six children died in a battle between Sri Lankan security forces and suicide bombers who blew themselves up in their hideout in Sainthamaruthu, Kalmunai reported the media. (Continued)

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