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What had started as a peaceful Easter Sunday morning in churches across an island-nation that is known the world over for its serendipity, Sri Lanka was witness to a series of deadly terrorist attacks before the morning was over. It began with a bomb blast in a church in capital Colombo followed minutes later by a second blast in another church in the east coast town of Batticaloa, 250 kms away. These were followed by more bomb attacks targeting another church and three luxury hotels in Colombo. The church attacks took place while members of the island’s Catholic community—an estimated six per cent of the population—were attending the Easter Mass.
Altogether, eight bombs blasts were carried out within a short span of six hours. More than 290 people were killed and about 500 others have been wounded—making it the deadliest attack witnessed in Sri Lanka so far. Also, among the dead were several visitors from Europe and America, besides six Indians. To many, the terror attack was reminiscent of the Mumbai terror attack of November 26, 2008 in which the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel had been attacked by the foreign-based terrorists.
What struck most observers was the precise and coordinated manner in which the attacks were carried out. It suggested that some international terrorist groups too might have been involved. Though no terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Sri Lankan police sources admitted that they had some intelligence about a jihadi radical group’s activities; but, obviously, had failed to act upon it. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also admitted that his government had some idea of who were behind the attacks, but refused to divulge more details until the investigations were completed.
Three security personnel were also killed in a shoot-out when they raided a safe house outside Colombo. By the end of the day, the security forces had detained eight suspects for questioning. At least one of the Church bombings was believed to have been carried out by a suicide bomber.
The Colombo attacks evoked strong condemnation and expressions of solidarity with Sri Lankan from governments and leaders the world over. India strongly condemned the blasts and expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Mr. Modi termed the attacks as cold-blooded and barbaric. He said India is ready to extend all help to Sri Lanka. Many political leaders in India across the political spectrum condemned the attacks in Sri Lanka.
The reason for the Sri Lankan serial blasts could be; terrorists wanted to create maximum impact, and hence, chose a soft target. They wanted to send a message to countries of the region and the west—in particular. The choice of Batticaloa on the Lankan east coast as against Colombo on the west was perhaps meant to convey the terrorists’ extensive reach. Attacking the hotels in particular was a way of creating greater international impact. The blasts in hotels were intended to hurt the island-nation’s tourism industry—which happens to be the mainstay of its economy. Targeting the churches during Easter Sunday Mass might have been to create religious fissures in the country.
In a sense, Sunday’s terror attack is reminiscent of the Easter bombing in Lahore, three years ago, in which 75 people were killed. Pakistan has been slow in drawing the right lessons and has till now failed to act decisively on terror. The result has been that Islamabad is often found pussyfooting when it comes to standing up together to meet the challenge of global terror. However, this time, the message from Colombo could not have been more explicit. No country in South Asia is safe from the reach of the terrorist. The only way to stand up to this deadly beast is by standing firmly together. Any government of the region that chooses to ignore this message would be doing so only at its own peril.
Script: M.K.Tikku, Political Commentator