For hours on Easter Sunday, the media – social and mainstream alike – hesitated to speculate on who could have been behind the coordinated suicide bombings that rocked Sri Lanka, killing at least 290 people and injuring 500 others. Everyone put their heads down, studied their shoes, and pretended as though there could be any doubt as to which religious extremists could be behind a slaughter this targeted and vicious.
On Monday, with hard evidence in hand however, the Sri Lankan government confirmed what we all knew from the moment the tragic news struck: This was the work of Islamic jihadists. Namely, a local group that calls itself National Thoweek Jaamath.
Eager to ensure no further violence, Sri Lanka is taking drastic measures to curb social media misinformation (and jihadist communication) and arrest anyone who may be connected with the jihadists. As of Monday, the police have put more than 20 people in jail, and the investigation is only getting started.
While the bombers were all citizens of Sri Lanka, investigators believe that the scope and sophistication of the attacks point to foreign involvement. Officials have not yet expounded on that theory, however.
Reports also surfaced on Monday that Sri Lankan intelligence agencies may have had early warnings that the attacks could be coming.
“Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence,” tweeted Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando. “Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.”
More importantly, the attacks continued what has become a trend in Asian nations as Islamic terrorism begins to spread beyond the Middle East and into the Far East. Sri Lanka has had serious issues with terrorism in the past, but it has mostly been confined to political struggles between separatists, nationalists, and violent Buddhist sects in the region. With this horrific attack, which has the hallmarks of an ISIS-inspired (if not organized) operation, the country must now deal with the new reality. They won’t be the first Asian nation to do so.
In January, the Philippines were besieged by a church bombing that took the lives of 20 worshipers – an attack ISIS took credit for. A year ago in May 2018, ISIS also claimed responsibility for a series of church attacks in Indonesia, which killed 12 people. A year before that, on Palm Sunday, ISIS killed at least 49 Christians gathered for Sunday Mass in Egypt.
Territorially speaking, the U.S. and its coalition partners have decimated ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But the savagery on display in Sri Lanka this weekend demonstrates in no uncertain terms that we have by no means ended the threat posed by them and other Islamic extremists. We do not have the luxury of letting our guard down. Not now. Maybe not ever.