GOTA PHOBIA – Part V D (A Presidential Commission to probe Easter Sunder Carnage promised)
Posted on October 21st, 2019

By : A.A.M.NIZAM – MATARA

The National and common presidential candidate had a series of successful and highly attended meetings in the areas coming under the landscape popularly referred to as ‘the Catholic Belt’ – kiribathgoda, Katana, Ragama, Negombo etc., – in which Catholic MPs Nimal Lansa, Arundika Fernando and several others made emotional speeches about the Easter Sundage carnage and the government’s deliberate negligence to prevent the bomb blasts even at the last moment and pointed out that government Ministers and MPs did not attend Easter Sunday services in their neighbourhood churches on that day because they were well aware what was going to happen on that melancholic day.  It was also pointed out that Minister Harin Fernando had told the media that he did not attend church on that day because his father told him that there will be bomb blasts in churches on that day.

 They said not a single government Minister or MP despite their awareness of the looming carnage did not take any action at least to keep the priests of the churches informed.  All the MPs emphasized that all Ministers and MPs in the government should be held responsible for the unfortunate deaths of over 250 people and nearly 500 people injured and colossal damages done to the churches. They also stated that some of the injured people are still hospitalised and some have become disabled.

Addressing the meeting held in Negombo, which is considered as Sri Lanka’s Vatican, on October 19th Saturdat, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa promised to fulfil His Eminence Cardinal’s request.

He asserted that under his administration, he would appoint the presidential commission that His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith had been requesting for, to uncover the persons responsible for the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Mr. Rajapaksa also vowed to restore the disrupted security measures and to make the country a safe haven again.

Attending a public meeting held in Ragama, Mr. Rajapaksa claimed that the incumbent government failed to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks despite receiving all the necessary information on the date and the venues where the attacks would take place.

Toda, October 21st in the date this article was written it is exactly 6 months from the Easter Sunday carnage.  Up to now the government has not apologized for the havoc.  The ignoramus UNP candidate Sajith Premadasa keeps on shrieking and thumping on the chest at his meetings uttering nonsense but so far bot a single word of apology has been made on behalf of the unfortunate victims of this butchery.  Killing people is not a matter to be regretted for this man who proudly calls himself as the son of his father Ranasinghe Premadasa and the one who is possessing the genes of Premadasa who was responsible for the death of over 60,000 southern youth.  

His Eminence Cardinal Dr. Malcolm Ranjith who became very annoyed and saddened over this carnage urged that all officials who received prior information about the bombings but did not take any action to prevent them should be removed along with the country’s leadership, The  Archbishop made these commands at a  Sunday mass held at St. Lucia’s Cathedral in Kotahena to commemorate those killed in the Easter Sunday attacks and invoke blessings on the injured.

The prelate said that the Easter Sunday bombings had come as a shock to him and he was still grief-stricken like millions of others. He emphasized that not only the officials who had not acted on an intelligence warning of terror attacks but also the rulers were responsible for the tragic incidents.

The cardinal added that a large number of people had been killed and injured in the attack not because of God’s will but because of the evil of men and those who were incapable of taking responsibility must be removed from their positions and from the leadership of the country.

He said some terrorists were still at large and they thought they could escape punishment and if they were not punished by courts, there would be divine justice. Those who failed to punish those involved in acts of terror would be punished by God .

The cardinal added that those who were trying to use the tragedy to get their personal gains and political agendas fulfilled would also be punished by God.

A large number of relatives of the victims of the bombings attended the mass.

Addressing a seminar held at Bolawalana, the Archbishop while blaming the government  for its deliberate negligence to prevent the suicide bombings, said that  they are not bothered about whether an election is held or not but what they want is to know the truth about the background to this carnage and the innocent people, men, women and children were massacred in this manner?

Many religious, social and political analysts have pointed out that Sri Lanka is fortunate to have a person in the stature of His Eminence Cardinal Dr. Malcolm Ranjith as the Archbishop of the country at the time of the Easter Sunday carnage and if there was a myopic person in his place there could  have been a horrendous bloodbath in the country and religious riots.  They said that all Sri Lankans should be immensely thankful for Cardinal Dr. Malcolm Ranjith for preventing such a calamity and ensuring peace and harmony in the country. 

In a special appeal to the Muslims in Sri Lanka the Archbishop called on all Muslims in the country to personally minimise and shed their cultural differences and integrate with the rest of society and the common culture, as one people and citizens of the country. He said that Muslim politicians, should be authentic in their faith and the core values of Islam instead of using religion as a label or for selfish purposes.

The Cardinal along with several Buddhist religious leaders, also claimed that regional level leadership of various political parties and politically aligned groups and agents at the base and grassroots level were the lynch mobs who fuelled and motivated by the provision and consumption of alcohol behind the spate of tense and riotous situations and violent attacks, in the past couple of days, targeting Muslim properties, including shops and mosques, in certain areas which led to the imposition of curfew and arrests. They thus called on all leaders of political parties to rein in and control their Party members and henchmen.

Advocating on behalf of the private nature of religion and worship, and the separation of religion from politics and vice versa, the religious leaders also reiterated their call to ban all national level political parties which contained references to race, ethnicity or religion in the names of their Parties as it only served to cause further divisions. They emphasised that, political candidates representing minorities should be able to contest from national level Parties for even the Presidency and Premiership, and should respect diversity.

It was also the view of the Cardinal and other religious leaders that all affairs pertaining to religion should be brought under the purview of one Government Ministry as was previously the case as opposed to having separate Ministries per religion.        

These views were expressed by Archbishop Ranjith and Chief Prelate of the Kotte Chapter of the Siam Sect, Ven. Ittepane Dhammalankara Thera at a Media conference convened at the Archbishop’s house in Colombo to make a special appeal for the public to refrain from giving vent to their emotions and causing chaos, taking the law into their own hands owing to a misguided sense of faux heroism and thereby disturbing the peace and unity, and instead act intelligently and patriotically, keeping emotions in check, maintaining calm, exercising compassion, love and patience, respecting dignity and individual liberty and freedom, and allow and assist the law enforcement authorities to carry out their duties, including search operations and obey their orders as that would constitute the highest tribute to be paid to those whose lives were sacrificed in the 21 April Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks on churches, hotels and elsewhere.

Archbishop Ranjith urged all to allow for Buddhists and Muslims to celebrate their forthcoming festivals, Vesak and Ramadan, respectively. 

When questioned as to Tamil National Alliance MP, President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran’s recent statement that the Easter Sunday carnage was partially the result of the grievances of the minorities not being addressed by the Government, Archbishop Ranjith whilst acknowledging that minorities had legitimate problems which should be separately discussed and resolved. He pointed out that there was no evidence to indicate a direct link between the Easter Sunday attacks and unaddressed issues facing the minorities, and that therefore Sumanthiran’s claim was a case of overreach.

The Archbishop also took the security forces personnel to task over the recent incidents which revealed that areas and places previously searched and swept by law enforcement during search ops had revealed more weapons. We told them to do a thorough search area by area, house by house, irrespective of religion, yet this went unheeded, he noted. The searches have not been done properly, he further added.

He also bemoaned that their call to appoint a commission to probe the assets of politicians had fallen on deaf ears.

On Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s recent claim that Sri Lanka is not a Buddhist country, and not a Sinhalese country the two religious leaders said that such a view was one bereft of even the most rudimentary understanding of the country, its history and culture. The Archbishop also cited examples of how well Christians and Catholics were treated in Sri Lanka when compared to the treatment afforded them in other Christian and Catholic countries (example – separate seats for clergy in public transportation).

D6espite these conciliatory and pacifying moves by these two religious leaders and many other religious leaders and erudite scholars the vicious elements similar to Sumanthiran, some Sumanthirams in the Sinhala community also attempted to espouse hatred and communalism among the Sinhalese as well.  They were only blood thirsty and were not concerned at all about that could cause to this country.  A person calling himself as Ratanapala” without giving his full name or proper identification writing an article to Lankaweb news-site under the title Easter Sunday bombings – Islamic terror and R2P – clash of the Barbarians”.  Exract from the opening paragraph of his article and writer’s comments are given below:

On 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday – on the holiest day in the Christian Calendar, suicide bombers simultaneously attacked three Catholic Churches and three 5 – Star Hotels in Sri Lanka killing over 250 including nearly 40 foreigners visiting the island. The reason for attacking the Catholics and White Foreigners can be adduced to ISIS losing territory in the Middle-east to Christchurch massacre of Muslims by a white nationalist in New Zealand.

It seems that the so-called Ratanapala unfortunately does not know who the ISIS are, who invented this terror group and for what purpose it was invented?  ISIS was a strategic terrorist group invented by the United States when they found Russian influence is increasing in Iraq and Syria extensive and these two countries would become appendages of Russia and it is necessary to install American puppet regimes in these two countries.  American aspirations have not succeeded and the ISIS has suffered heavy casualties recently.  At the same time, America is also very much worried about increasing Chinese influence in South Asia and was looking forward to destabilise these countries and establish a base in lieu of the Diego Garcia island in order to arrest and contain the Chinese influence..  Accordingly they have chosen Sri Lanka as the ideal location and the Easter Sunday carnage was a part of their plan to foment Muslim-Catholic clashes in the country thus paving the way for them to assume the role of peace keepers and establish a command base and maintain a puppet government in the country.  Do you think that it was because they like you and me and other Sri6 Lankans they proposed t0 grant U.S.$ 480 Million grant under a project named MCC. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was to sign the SOFA agreement even without cabinet approval under which comes the MCC project on 27th October, 2019 and President Maithreepala Sirisena forced to dodge it by appointing Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa on the previous day of the Ranil-American D-Day and launching Sri Lanka’s October Revolution. After getting re-instated with the help of the TNA Ranil attempted to get cabinet approval twice for the SOFA agreement but it was stalled by the President.  

President’s Counsel Ali Sabry commenting on the Easter Sunday carnage said that the number of members in terrorist leader Zahran Hashim’s group grew significantly following the ethnic clashes in March last year and that this goes to show extremism feeds extremism.

He said Zahran’s terrorist group had only 20-25 members in the past, but after last year’s unfo6rtunate clashes in Digana a large number of youths had joined them and this has been confirmed through intelligence reports.

It is also pertinent to present here a comprehensive investigative report on the Easter Sunday carnage posted by the Colombo correspondent of the Indian daily The Hindu” Meena Srinivasan.

Meera says that at first, they were nameless. Nine suicide bombers,” is all authorities would reveal. In a little over a week, the police identified each of them and their stories began coming out. A month after a messy web of disgruntled radicals emerged, throwing up troubling hints of how readily rage can court terror.

She says that Zahran Hashim, 33, was a radical preacher and was the alleged ringleader, who f6ound little acceptance in his hometown Kattankudy, in eastern Batticaloa. Mosques in the predom6inantly Muslim town rejected him outright and their members even complained to authorities, before he went absconding in 2017 after a clash with a fellow priest who challenged his interpretation of Islam.

But soon, a team of young Muslim men — and one woman — from other, mostly Sinhala-majority, areas eagerly joined him on his Easter mission to carry out a suicide attack on churches and high-end hotels in and around Colombo and Batticaloa. All nine bombers were in their 20s and 30s.

Ms. Srinicasan states that they were radicalised at different times, for different reasons, and in varying measures and they encountered Hashim on social media or in person. She adds that in him they saw a mentor who could give their lives purpose and direction. With time and interaction, their shared cause acquired considerable weight — enough for them to pledge their lives for it.

She states that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), w6ho conducted the probe, have traced all nine to two jihadist organisations — National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ), led by Hashim, and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI), a less formal group of youth who had met on social media.

Marred by internal power struggles,Meera says that the two organisations gradually became less relevant for Hashim’s team as its focus shifted to a new mission in the last six months. They were bound by ideology and connected by technology.

And on April 21, the nine bombers killed over 250 people, including 45 children, drawing attention to the underground terror network they had built quietly and efficiently, even as the rest of Sri Lanka was enjoying a relative post-civil war calm.

Ishana Exports is a nearly three decade-old spice export company. Its founder Y.M. Ibrahim is widely known as 6a millionaire with modest beginnings, and an ever-ready philanthropist. He has friends of all political hues, and they all respect him. In natural course, his sons would have inherited his business, fortune, and possibly all that goodwill. Instead, they chose to become suicide bombers. The CID has detained their father for questioning.

An extremely mild-mannered and polite young man.” That is how a senior staff member at Ishana Exports remembers his boss’s son Inshaf Ahmed Mohamed Ibrahim. Even as a child he was not mischievous. He was a lovely child,” said a family member.

Inshaf, 33, went to D.S. Senanayake College, he didn’t go to university but learned the tricks of the spice trade.

Of nine siblings, only Inshaf and Ilham — the second and third sons — were directly involved in the business. Both were on the board of directors. Inshaf was more actively engaged, said company sources. Th6e two often travelled on work, including to India.

Though he [Inshaf] was technically our boss, he never gave orders. He would say ‘can you please do this’, as if he were asking a favour,” said an employee, who asked not to be named. Ilham, 31, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have evoked a similar warmth. Ilham was a loner, he rarely showed up at family events or spoke to people. He was very introverted. We hardly even know him,” said a family member.

It was not until a year ago that employees and family noticed a change in the two brothers.

Inshaf often objected to his father’s practice of taking short-term loans on interest for rotating cash. He said our 6religion does not permit borrowing money on interest and we must stop it,” a senior employee rec6alled. It’s something Muslims often hear their preachers say, but their father — with a practical business sense — did not consider it an offence.

  • At least two arrests made after the attacks suggest that young IT professionals were among those associated with JMI.
  • Investigators say they suspect Aadhil Ameez, 24, a software engineer who might have provided technical and logistical support to the bombers, to have been a link between different jihadist units.
  • A Reuters report reveals that Ameez — who calls himself Aadhil Ax — has been under Indian surveillance from 2016, when he was found to be in touch with two suspects linked to a plot targeting Ahmedabad and with three Indians promoting the IS.
  • Ameez was from Dharga Town, near Aluthgama on the southern coast, where Muslims faced large-scale, targeted violence in 2012. As in Digana in 2018, the attacks seemed part of a pattern. It was repeated6 last week in parts of Kurunegala and Gampaha, when mobs torched Muslim-owned shops and homes.
  • Ameez is believed to have interned with IT company Virtusa in 2013, where one employee was recently arrested for suspected links with the Easter attacks. We don’t know if he played a role, but there are indications that this employee met Hashim on April 6,” said a senior investigating officer.

Inshaf continued to run a copper factory that he had set up some five years earlier, in Wellampitiya, 5 km from the family’s plush villa in the Colombo suburb, Dematagoda. Ilham managed a part of the spice sourcing for his father’s company.

Inshaf continued to visit the office, dealing with employees as cordially as before. A company source said there was no drastic change in Inshaf’s appearance. He only sported a slightly longer beard, I noticed. But ma6ny people do that.” He wore formals or the usual jeans and T-shirt.

He came last on April 18.” That was four days before he blew himself up at Colombo’s Cinnamon Grand Hotel, just as Ilham and mastermind Hashim did at the nearby Shangri-La hotel.

The same day, Ilham’s pregnant wife Fathima blasted explosives strapped to her body as the police surrounded the Dematagoda house, where Ilham’s family lived on the top floor. Their three children as well as three policemen died on the spot.

Investigators believe the brothers came in contact with Hashim via Facebook and private chat rooms. The bond seems to have grown over time, with Ilham becoming a key funder of the Easter plot, according to a top officer.

The CCTV footage from Taj Samudra that Sri Lankan television played, showed a restless Abdul Latheef Jameel M666ohamed seated at a restaurant, fiddling with his backpack. Minutes later, he walked out after a botched suicide attack. Without a clue of the terror he was carrying on his shoulders, staff helped him wheel out his bigger bags to the porch. Five hours later, he blew himself up in a small hotel in a southern suburb of Dehiwala, killing at least two other guests.

As a teenager, Jameel was a motivated student. He pursued aerospace engineering at Kingston University in southwest London from 2006 to 2007, and later went to Melbourne for postgraduation. Australian immigration records show that he left Australia in 2013.

Jameel’s sister Samsul Hidaya told Daily Mail that he was normal” when he went to study in Britain. But after Australia, he returned to Sri Lanka a different man,” she was quoted as saying. The Australian reported that the police had marked Jameel for his apparent terrorist leanings, based on evidence linking him 6to IS recruiter Neil Prakash, one of Australia’s most wanted jihadists.

Others, however, believe Jameel was radicalised earlier, in the U.K., where he met notorious British Islamist Anjem Choud66ary. Jameel’s friends also told media that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 had deeply affected him when he was in his early 20s.

According to investigators, Jameel returned t0 Sri Lanka in 2014, after a failed attempt to travel to Syria. He could go only up to Turkey,” an officer said. Back home, he lived with his wife and four children in Wellampitiya, the Colombo suburb where Inshaf’s copper factory is located.

Jameel and the Ibrahim brothers knew each other well,” said a senior investigator. Initially, it was Ilham who linked up with Jameel online. Later, they were all part of JMI.”

Like Jameel, Alawdeen Ahmed Muath too was a motivated student. He graduated in law from a college in Colombo and was registered to practise. Following his wedding a year ago, Muath mostly lived in Sainthamaruthu, his wife’s hometown in the Eastern Province. The town, less than an hour’s drive from Kattankudy, where Hashim was based, came into focus when troops found 15 bodies inside a house on April 27. After an overnight gun battle between security forces and suspects, three suicide bombers triggered explosions, killing themselves, six children and three women inside.

Among the dead were Hashim’s father and two brothers, including Rilwan Hashim, later identified by investigators as an explosives expert”. The jihadists were tenants on the first floor of a small house in a crammed tsunami resettlement colony. Muath, officers say, likely met the Hashims in Sainthamaruthu.

Muath would visit us now and then. He last came [home] on April 14 to see his sister’s newborn. His wife was pregnant, their baby was also due soon. Muath bought baby clothes and left for Sainthamaruthu,” his father said in court.

On Easter morning, Muath’s wife called the family to ask if they knew where he was. Then came news of the blast. On M6ay 5, Muath’s baby was born, a fortnight after the father took his life and that of many others, at St. Anthony’s church in Colombo.

Hashim’s network was not restricted to the nine Easter bombers. Over the years, he had found allies and fans in different cities. For instance, the Abdul-Haq brothers in Mawanella, some 25 km from Kandy, who were on the run from December 2018. That’s when Buddha statues in Mawanella, which is home to a sizeable Sinhala-Buddhist population, were vandalised. At least six people were arrested, but Mohammad Sadik Abdul-Haq and Mohammad Shaheed Abdul-Haq went into hiding. They were caught days after the Easter terror attacks.

Military intelligence sources said they have not found any evidence of the duo’s role in the Easter bombings, but other investigators indicated that Sadik likely trained some of the bombers.

of their role, their backstory gives a peek into how some crucial links in Sri Lanka’s Islamist radical m6atrix go back years. Their story also reveals how raging anger can swiftly morph into a thirst for revenge, making an indoctrinator’s job easy.

Hashim visited a mosque near Mawanella over eight years ago and, typically, made more enemies than friends before being barred from preaching there. Hashim would frequently argue that our preachers were wrong in their practice of Islam. After a point, they realised he was a trouble-maker and asked him not to come,” said an official at the Mawanella masjid.

The brothers grew up in Mawanella in a pious family. Their father Ibrahim Moulavi was a well-respected preacher and a member of the local Jamaat-e-Islami, an influential socio-religious organisation. Sadik failed his A Levels but was known for his karate skills. He was very athletic,” the source said. Sadik and Sha6heed met Hashim once or twice” at that time, said a source close to the family.

Investigators can’t confirm these earlier meetings, but believe the brothers gravitated towards Hashim later, in 2017, enticed by his doctrinal videos. From our investigation, it appears they got close in 2018, months before getting the statue vandalising assignment from Hashim,” a senior officer said.

Meanwhile, friends of the brothers were aware of their growing radicalism. In fact, the Jamaat-e-Islami and its youth wing, Sri Lanka Islamic Students’ Movement, expelled them four years ago. Sadik went to Turkey on a scholarship and promised to return in three months but stayed on for over four months. We heard he went to Syria from there,” said one member.

On his return, Sadik tried usurping leadership of the organisation, and was expelled. He grew a long beard, his wife began to wea6r the face veil, not very common among Muslims in Mawanella. Shaheed too changed his attire. Their father tried bringing them back on track. Instead, they tactfully drew Moulavi to their radical line,” said a relative. The father had to be expelled from Jamaat-e-Islami less than a year ago. He challenged our constitution,” said a member.

Then, the defacing of the Buddha statues put them back in the spotlight. Friends and family members of the duo point to two likely triggers for the brothers’ growing slant towards radicalism.

Mawanella experienced a spate of violent anti-Muslim attacks in 2001 that shook the town. Fearing more losses to business and property, Muslims did not retaliate. Sadik and Shaheed were in their late teens at the time.

In 2018, Digana, located 40 km east of Mawanella, witnessed one of the worst targeted attacks on Muslims in years. Following a ro6ad rage incident, at least one Muslim youth died, and Muslim-owned property worth millions was burnt down. Many saw the incident as a crude expression of a resurgent Sinhala-Buddhist extremism.

It must have impacted Sadik very much. Why Sadik, it affected all of us. I was very disturbed that these hardline groups were getting away with such deplorable actions,” says a young professional, in his early 30s, who knew the brothers from childhood. We all felt the same rage. The only difference was in how we chose to express it — emotionally or rationally. Sadik was always emotional and aggressive, the kind whose hands would speak first even when someone violated traffic rules.”

A few others in Mawanella, Kattankudy and Colombo echoed similar sentiments. As much as they vehemently condemned the terror attacks, they seemed to appreciate why their friends or relatives had turned radical. They say radicalism and terrorism have many roots. The feeling of injustice must surely be one,” said the young p6rofessional.

He recalled Hashim’s Facebook cover picture from late 2018. I remember it said in Arabic ‘we are going to conspire against your statues’. It must have spoken directly to Sadik and Shaheed’s anger.” As it turned out, Hashim — who staunchly opposed idol worship — chose the brothers for the statue vandalism that investigators, in retrospect, see as an important precursor to the Easter attacks.

The many hazy links Hashim had with radical youth appear to have firmed up into an informal alliance in 2016, at a wedding. Investigators said: It was at a wedding in Kattankudy. Many JMI members went for it. We think Ilham and Jameel were also there.” Beginning then, most in the group stayed in touch largely through WhatsApp and Telegram, even after Hashim went into hiding in 2017.

But the real close circle,” investigators said, was formed mid-2018, with no specific mission but probably as some sort of preparation” for a future attack. Investigators point to the clue they saw in the huge cache of explosives unearthed in January in Wanathawilluwa town, near Wilpattu national park.

The Easter plot itself seems to have come to shape much later. From our interrogation of suspects, it is evident that Hashim spoke of attacking churches,” said a senior officer. He thinks the plot was provoked by the Christchurch killings in New Zealand in which over 50 Muslims, kneeling in prayer, were shot dead.

Others are less certain. The Christchurch attack was mid-March. A well-coordinated, sophisticated attack of this nature will need meticulous planning and longer preparation time,” said a senior officer. There is little evidence to support that theory.”

In fact, one of the main questions that remains is whether the suspects had a direct channel to the IS leaders6hip,” he said. Evidence shows that some suspects, including Jameel and Hashim’s brother Rilwan, were in touch with two of the five main Sri Lankan IS fighters who went to Syria some years ago. But none of the bombers had direct links with the IS leadership.

One of the Sri Lankan jihadists that Rilwan had been speaking to died in 2017; and another, whom Jameel knew, is in custody, reportedly in Turkey. They were two of the first five fighters who left from 2015 to Turkey and Syria. They left with their entire families. That is how politicians came up with that number,” he said, referring to the over 30 Sri Lankan youth” who, politicians say, joined the IS.

It is unclear if Hashim was independently in touch with the IS leadership. He often claimed to have received instructions from Sham,” referring to Syria, in his videos and conversations with recruits.

Investigators are also grappling with another contradiction — the target. Why did the Islamist radicals choose to attack a fellow minority community with whom they had no enmity?

In the raid in Sainthamaruthu, troops not only found explosives, but also white dresses that Buddhist women usually wear for temple visits or prayers. This has sparked doubts of whether the attacks were planned for the Buddhist festival of Vesak — May 18-19 — or for the July Kandy Perahara, known for its procession of traditional dancers and parades of elephants. Every year, tens of thousands of people are on Kandy’s streets to witness this spectacle.

Some investigators wondered if an initial plot, planned against Sinhala-Buddhists, had been hijacked by an external element” at a later stage. In other words, did an individual or group abroad use an already activated local radical group to put out its own message to the Western world? There are no clear answers yet.

It also looks as if JMI members initially hoped to join the IS in Syria. But after the ‘fall’ of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, they had to put off the plan, an official source said. Ever since, Ilham was desperate to execute an attack in Sri Lanka. He found his answer in the Easter plot.”

His brother Inshaf appears to have been roped in at the last stage. He had flight tickets booked for himself and his family for Mecca this May.

It was only weeks before the Easter weekend that they have evolved into a proper team, with their specific roles charted out. In the final weeks, they communicated using ‘Threema’, an encrypted messenger service considered highly secure, according to an officer.

Now, after extensive searches and key arrests, officers are confident of having virtually eliminated the threat. However, investigators continue to connect the dots — old and new — to deconstruct the deadly operation. Gaps remain,” a senior officer admitted.

Further probes will reveal if the plot was accelerated after Christchurch or if the target shifted at some point, but what is clear is that the suicide bombers had harboured enough rage in recent years to willingly embrace terror and execute a ruthless act. After that, the date, venue and target were merely details.(END)

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