Sri Lanka has seen its share of terrorism. Today is no exception alas

If there is one nation that for many of us evoked the spectre of terrorism at one time in recent history it could be Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist organisation that fought what it saw as egregious Sinhalese domination in the country (most Sri Lankans – 67% – are Sinhalese Buddhist: a minority – 25% – are Tamil Hindu), waged a campaign of violence for decades. It was the LTTE that perfected the technique of suicide bombings and championed the use of female terrorists, well before Sunni Islamist extremists did.

With the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 and the ‘defeat’ of the LTTE many may have thought that terrorism had also been defeated. That is unfortunately not the case. In what police are calling coordinated bombings around the country on Easter Sunday, close to 200 people were killed in churches and hotels, including at least 35 foreigners. No group has yet to claim responsibility although Sri Lankan authorities stated that it had received intelligence from a foreign agency that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) was planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo. The NTI is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that became known in 2018 when it was linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

If this heinous attack were indeed carried out by Islamist extremists it would match a pattern. Many such groups call for violence against Christians and foreigners. Sri Lanka fits neither mold but it does meet at least one criteria: it is largely Buddhist and there have been several attacks on Sri Lanka’s Muslim population (about 7% of the population) by Buddhist extremists in recent years (NB my forthcoming book Gods Made Me Do It covers all religious extremism in great detail). We know that Islamist extremist groups always demand retaliation when Muslims are killed by non-Muslims.

Even if the leading suspect is Islamist extremism, could it be another actor? Could it be the LTTE? Maybe, but in my memory that group hit Sri Lankan military and government targets, not churches, although hotels could be seen as a lucrative choice (hit the tourism sector). Why would it send suicide bombers to churches? Could it be Buddhist extremists? Yes, as they have also attacked Christians in Sri Lanka before, but NEVER on this scale.

Regardless of who the terrorists are, these attacks are particularly heinous and horrific. Easter Sunday is a feast for the world’s Christians in which they celebrate the rise from the dead of their saviour. Today they have to bury their fellow worshipers just because someone didn’t like their beliefs and their faith. What kind of monster does this?

There are days when even three decades of analysing terrorism are not enough to shield one from despair. Today is one of those days. I happen to be Catholic and hence Christian but you do not have to be either to feel saddened at what has transpired. I am numb at the loss of life.

May the victims rest in peace and their families find solace in their faith. I hope those behind these disgusting acts are found and brought to justice soon.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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