ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Terrorist Attacks in Sri Lanka

Loss of innocent lives is the cost of the utter ineptness of a crisis-ridden Government of Sri Lanka. 


The terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019 have not only shaken the island nation but also the entire world. Coordinated bombings carried out on Easter day in Catholic churches and tourist hotels have led to more than 350 deaths. (As we go to press, this figure has reportedly been revised to “about 253’’). It has been reported that the explosions at St Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade, St Sebastian’s church, Katuwapitiya, Zion Church, Batticaloa, and Shangri-La, the Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels were carried out by suicide bombers and the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has apparently claimed responsibility for the attacks. The scale and intensity of the attacks, choice of targets, and the fact that places of worship were targeted during prayer congregation were horrific. However, these were consistent with the recent pattern of terrorist attacks as witnessed in the attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. These attacks on the one hand have brought to the fore the infirmities of the crisis-ridden Sri Lankan polity and on the other, also highlight the insecurities faced by religious minority communities, particularly in the context of the history of ethnic tensions in the South Asian region.

What is most astounding is that there was prior specific intelligence available of the possible terror attacks targeting the Catholic churches and, according to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the information was not officially conveyed. Since the President of Sri Lanka as ex-officio commander-in-chief remains the minister of defence as well as the minister of law and order, the failure to act on intelligence inputs amounts to a grave dereliction on his part. This seems to be the result of the breakdown of administration since the time when it was termed as a “constitutional coup’’ attempted by the President in October 2018. However, the Prime Minister cannot be absolved from the responsibility either, as the ministry of law and order was brought under the President’s purview and the Prime Minister seems to have acquiesced to it. The cost of the ongoing crisis involving the conflict between the Maithripala Sirisena-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) has been enormous, leading to the loss of hundreds of innocent lives. It is a tragic irony that the incompetence of the very government that came to power in 2015 with a mandate for ethnic reconciliation now threatens to jeopardise the uneasy and unstable social compact in a country that was in the throes of civil war barely a decade ago. Championing the line of ethnic supremacism and authoritarianism, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already blamed the initiatives of reconciliation for undermining the security forces and national security. It is feared that with the election due later this year, there could be a consolidation of opinion around such positions and it would receive impetus from the invocation of emergency provisions that vest sweeping powers in the President. Such consolidation could intensify the constant sense of insecurity among the religious minority communities in Sri Lanka. It is such a predicament that the terror groups like ISIS (along with other extremist terror outfits across religions and regions) seek to perpetuate through their modus operandi of propaganda by terror.

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Updated On : 15th May, 2019
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