Sri Lankans must unite against terror

Sri Lankan security personnel inspect the debris of a car after it explodes when police tried to defuse a bomb near St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on Sunday. — AFP

The appalling carnage in Sri Lanka has shocked the world. This beautiful island has spent the last 10 years struggling to recover from the decades of unrelenting violence brought about by the Tamil Tiger rebellion. It might have been hoped the country could be enjoying a revival of its important tourist trade. The Sunday blasts that killed some 300 innocents and maimed at least 500 more have shattered those expectations.

After an initial silence, during which there were also no gloating terrorist claims of responsibility, the authorities blamed an obscure local Jihadist group, the National Thowheed Jamath. At least a score of suspects have already been arrested. If this gang did indeed perpetrate these foul crimes, then there is evidence to suggest that they were not acting alone. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has admitted security services had been “aware of information” 10 days ago that an attack was planned. The failure to act on what appears to have been a warning from outside intelligence organizations will doubtless damage the government and could undermine its support if elections are held this year, as President Maithripala Sirisena hinted last December.

Though it is still early in the investigation, the finger of blame is clearly pointing at Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) if only because of the coordination of the six suicide attacks and the apparent sophistication of the explosive devices. In two raids of suspected terrorists lairs there were further blasts, in one of which three policemen perished. The investigation now under way is likely to include overseas intelligence bodies. It will be of considerable forensic benefit that security forces discovered and defused an IED near Colombo airport. It is also reported that police found a large cache of detonators in a left-luggage locker at the capital’s main bus station

A further indication that Daesh could have been behind this indiscriminate slaughter is that besides three top Colombo hotels, the terrorists also targeted churches during the Easter services. Previous terror attacks in other countries have also massacred Christian worshippers at Easter.

What is crucial now is for all Sri Lankans to stand together in the face of terrorism, the clear purpose of which is to destabilize the country still traumatized by 26 years of bitter civil war. The killers will have hoped that they are pushing at an open door because there are already rising religious tensions in the island. Bigots from the majority Buddhist population have attacked both Christian and Muslim communities, with serious riots last year against Muslims. This is a dangerous shadow of the genocidal assaults of their coreligionists in Myanmar. Unfortunately, opposition politicians are not above exploiting inter-religious tensions.

Yet what must not be allowed to happen is for Sri Lankan Muslims, who make up around ten percent of the population, to become victimized in a backlash drummed up by unscrupulous community leaders. Terror thrives on division. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya all provide bloody proof of this. Now is not a time for recrimination. Now is the moment for all Sri Lankans, with the complete support of the international community, to come together and defy the men of violence. This will require courage, determination and wise leadership. Any attempt to exploit Sunday’s senseless slaughter will merely play into the hands of the wicked men of violence