Sectarian Violence Spike Timed with Returning Sri Lankan ISIS Terrorists from Syria
Posted on March 8th, 2018

– Kumar Moses (Defence Analyst specializing on VEOs Violent Extremist Organizations)

During the past fifteen (15) years, Sri Lanka saw increasing violence perpetrated by or involving Muslims. Concurrently, a large number of Sharia “universities”, learning centers and libraries were set up in the island, particularly after 2012. Muslim population which was below 7% before a bloody civil war (1983-2009) commenced had reached almost 10% by 2012. Sri Lanka shows all signs of other country that have a Muslim population of 10% or more. The transition is violent as can be evidenced from around the world. Sri Lanka is not alone in the steady collapse of the social fabric due to extremism. It is taking place all over the world including Europe.

A turning point took place in July 2009 in Beruwala where Muslims were slaughtered by Muslims. Close to ten Muslims were killed and scores suffered injuries.

The rise of extreme Islam became obvious throughout the country except the north. However, with the illegal deforestation of Wilpattu Reserve, the north too saw the spread of extremism. The government turned a blind eye. In 2014, another violent incident erupted in Aluthgama (very close to Beruwala) where a Buddhist procession was attacked by Muslims. Resultant riots killed four people. In 2015, US State Department’s country report on terrorism warned, “The security services’ focus on a possible LTTE resurgence affected the government’s attention to emerging threats, such as reports of Sri Lankan foreign terrorist fighters joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In July, Sri Lanka saw the first confirmation that Sri Lankans had joined ISIL when social media announced the death of Sharfaz Shuraih Muhsin, an ISIL fighter from Sri Lanka, after he was killed in coalition airstrikes in Syria. Thauqeer Ahmed Thajudeen – Muhsin’s brother-in-law and fellow Sri Lankan national – was later identified as a member of ISIL in Syria. According to media reports quoting Turkish government sources, 10 members of Muhsin’s family went to Iraq through Turkey. Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi said that although there were reports of Sri Lankans joining ISIL, there was no concrete evidence to suggest the group was operating in Sri Lanka.”

Former Minister of Justice warned the government that 32 Muslims from Sri Lanka have joined ISIS. Instead of investigating his claims, the government removed him from the ministry!

Sharfaz Nilam from Kandy went to Syria with 16 others (parents, wife, six children and friends). He studied Shari’a law at International Islamic University (Pakistan). This information was published in Dabiq (ISIS’s English magazine). He worked at Colombo University and later as the principal of a school in Kandy. Although he died in a coalition air strike on a ISIS hideout, 35 other Sri Lankan Muslims who joined ISIS have unknown whereabouts. They probably survived the war.

President Dr Bashar Al Asaad scored a series of dramatic military victories in Syria forcing foreign ISIS terrorists to flee. ISIS gave them new passports (mostly Indian passports) to travel back. Most Sri Lankan ISIS terrorists came home in 2017 as they followed scores of other losing ISIS fighters in Syria.

This is when extremism and terrorism became headline news in Sri Lanka. Extremist ideology, terrorism, guerilla warfare and networks came with them, and possibly guns and bombs too. The problem is bigger than Sri Lanka. An estimated 10,000 foreign fighters joined ISIS. While some died, surviving terrorists went back to their countries. However, the maintain close links mostly via social media that recruited them. Sri Lankan ISIS terrorists probably co-ordinate with their colleagues in a host of Asian countries to advance their common project. The world most come together to face this existential threat to civility and peace. External instigation of recent violence has been suspected and conclusively stated in statements issued by human rights organisations.

For the past 4 months Sri Lanka witnessed two large-scale violent incidents involving Muslims. At the rate the situation is deteriorating, no one can say for sure the island nation has seen the last of terrorism.

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