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A Year after Easter Sunday Attacks in Sri Lanka

20 April 2020

By Srimal Fernando

The answer to the sophisticated, coordinated terrorist suicide bombings on Easter Sunday last year was complex.  On the morning of 21st April 2019 nine suicide bombers belonging to National Thawheeth Jama'ath (JTJ) a local jihadist group carried out a series of coordinated bombings targeting catholic churches and luxury hotels killing 275 people and injuring more than 590.

The preliminary investigations showed that Sri Lankan radical Islamic Imam Zahran Hashim, founder of an Islamic organization called the National Thawheed Jamath (NTJ) from a small Muslim coastal town of Kattankudy in the eastern province of Sri Lanka masterminded the plots.

Although the sickening act by the local jihadist group was over, the  international  connection to the  bombings was far from over. Two days after the terrorist attacks the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the bombings in Sri Lanka.  

It is therefore necessary to identify a number of immediate and long term socio -economic and political factors originating at various levels. Everything depends on how thoroughly Sri Lanka learns from the mistakes of the past.  The daunting task lies ahead of tackling the de radicalization of youth who are involved with radical groups.

However the Sri Lankan policy makers must find satisfactory solutions in the coming years to build a peaceful society.  History suggest that the transition to a new counter-terrorism strategy to de-radicalize youth groups in Sri Lanka will not come easily. Moreover for a small island nation like Sri Lanka national security is fundamental and critical for the conduct of internal stability of a sovereign nation.

In the day following the Easter Sunday carnage by the local jihadist, the international community came together to denounce the massacre of innocent civilians and paid homage to those who lost their lives. The natural feeling of sadness was felt by the entire 1.2 million Sri Lankan Catholics in the wake of the mass, burials of over 150 St Sebastian's church and St. Anthony’s church worshipers.

For the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) and for the local jihadist group this was a day to celebrate, and for the Sri Lankan Catholics it was a day to mourn. The first reported burial took place at a cemetery near St Sebastian's church in Negombo. Family members mourned over the victim’s coffins as they bid farewell to their loved ones. The UN agency for children UNICEF reported that  the merciless  attacks  saw the highest  number of child  mortalities ( Unicef 2019).

A year on since the attacks, in a Easter service message this year the Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, emphasized “Last year, some misguided youths attacked us and we as humans could have given a human and selfish response," “But we meditated on Christ's teachings and loved them, forgave them and had pity on them” (Vatican news, 2020)

Moreover a 1,649-page parliamentary investigation found that former head of the state intelligence service, (SIS) is mainly accountable for the intelligence failure that led to the deadly Easter Sunday carnage. Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) further noted “The president failed on numerous occasions to give leadership and also actively undermined government and systems including having ad hoc national Security Council meetings while leaving out key individuals from meetings”.

Different analysts have interpreted the Easter Sunday attacks in different ways. It remains an open question, ‘How can we support  to heal the   psychological  wounds of the survivors of the  Easter Sunday terrorist attacks and what  are the victim  support  mechanisms available at this point to support  these  survivors. A year has passed since the deadly  Easter Sunday attacks  but the Sri Lankans area  still struggling to come to terms with this shocking experience.

(Srimal Fernando is a Doctoral Fellow at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA), India and a  Advisor / Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa. He is the winner of the 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ award in South Africa, and has been the recipient of GCA Media Award for 2016.)




February/March 2020








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