New Age Islam Special Correspondent
21 November 2020
The government probe into the deadly Easter attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019 is nearing its conclusion. Apart from establishing the link of the local radical outfit National Tauheed Jamaat to the international terrorist organisation ISIS and their involvement in the attacks, the probe has also exposed serious lapses on the part of the intelligence agencies and law enforcing agencies of Sri Lanka in preventing the attacks.
The investigations into the attacks have established the role of Zahran Hashmi, an active member of NTJ and Abdul Haque and Sadiq and other members of the group. NTJ subscribed to the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology and had already been at loggerheads with tolerant Sufi Islamic sects of Sri Lanka.
For example, in 2009, the imam of a mosque, Masjidur Rahman affiliated to the Natiknal Tauheed Jamaat issued a fatwa against the mosques affiliated to the Sufi Alawiyyah Tariqa and Qadiriyya Tarika. The mosques as usual had organised their annual feast which was attended by about 80,000 Muslims. The Tauheed mosque Imam said that the feast was haram and those who organised the feasts were Kafirs. This had outraged the religious feelings of members of the Alwiyya and Qadiriyya Tariqa and they had attacked the Tauheed mosque.
Zahran and his comrades were arrested after the attacks. The ISIS had also claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The terror attacks had unleashed an anti-Muslim wave in Sri Lanka. Muslims were targeted by Buddhist groups and a mob frenzy was witnessed against Muslims in many towns of Sri Lanka. The government banned face cover, Niqab and full face helmets. Muslim women were forced to unveil their faces at government places and Muslim women employees in government offices were asked to wear saris.
In the weeks and months after the attacks, many anti-Muslim riots were organised in many towns. Calls of economic boycott of Muslims were given by the anti-Muslim Buddhist monk Gyanasara of Bodu Bala Sena. Following his call, Sinhalese people stopped buying things from Muslim shops. Riots were orchestrated to destroy businesses of Muslims.
A monk staged a hunger strike demanding the resignation of two Muslim members of Parliament. In protest, the entire Muslim cabinet resigned.
A Muslim doctor Dr Shafi who worked in the gynaecology department of a medical college hospital was vilified by the majority committee accusing him of sterilising thousands of Sinhala women. Soon after this, 800 Sinhala women registered complaints against Dr Shafi. A criminal case was filed against him and he was arrested.
Muslims faced a stricter form of surveillance on them by the police and intelligence agencies. The police asked any Muslim about any visitors or friends dropping at their house. Mosques and organisations needed clearance from the police for organising any programme. The names of resource persons, details of the content of the programme and funding had to be furnished.
Members of Tablighi Jamaat who would earlier wear long robes switched to T-shirt and pants. Their women who wore Abaya now wore saris to avoid being branded Jihadis and harassment in public.
Anti-Muslim feelings among the majority Sinhalese is not new. The hatred of Muslims in Sri Lanka was revived after the end of LTTE in 2009. Politicians and extremist Buddhist monks circulated theories of rise of jihadism in Muslim minority community, particularly since 2013. The anti-Muslim campaign on television and social media often culminated into riots.
Mourners grieve at the graves of relatives killed in the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. Journalists question their presence at deeply personal times such as these. Photograph: Atul Loke/Getty Images
But after the Easter attacks of April 2019, the anti-Muslim hatred reached its crescendo. Every Muslim was seen as a jihadi.
However, in October 2020, Sri Lanka's Parliamentary Committee report said that the Muslims of Sri Lanka were not involved in the attacks. It was a fringe group influenced by the Wahhabi ideology that carried out the attacks with the help of the ISIS.
This brought some relief to the common Muslims of Sri Lanka who faced every kind of insult, harassment, torture and social ostracism due to the sins of the ISIS and National Tauheed Jamaat.
The inquiry commission instituted by the previous commission has now made more shocking disclosures. The former Inspector General of police, Pujith Jayasundara who had been suspended for not acting on time and not being able to prevent the attacks told the inquiry commission that he had provided intelligence input about the possible attacks to the four senior DGPs but the inputs were deleted from the telecom records at the behest of the former President Srisena's brother who was the President of Mobitel Telecom at that time.
Mr Pujith Jayasundara further told the inquiry commission that Srisena had asked him to own the responsibility of the attacks for which he was offered inducements like high post or the post of ambassador.
The head of country's intelligence chief Nilantha Jaywardana had to resign for failing to prevent the attacks. Investigations have revealed that Mr Jayewardene had received the information of the impending attacks on April 4 --- 17 days before the attacks but sat on the information. Pujith Jaysundara said that the former President Srisena should take the responsibility for the attacks.
Another shocking disclosure made by the commission was that Zahran Hashmi had been on the radar of security agencies since 2015 and an arrest warrant had already been issued for him in 2017. Still he was not arrested and was allowed to roam free and execute his plan.
Another startling fact that has emerged during the investigation is that on December 26, 2018, four months before the attacks, Buddha statues in Muwanella town were vandalised at night. The town has a mixed population of Muslims and Buddhists. The police entrusted the task of finding out the culprits with the local council member 38 year old Md Taslim. The local people told Taslim that two brothers Sadiq and Abdul Haque who had recently been radicalised and hated the Buddhists had vandalised the statues. The people also told him that the two brothers had also stocked weapons in his house. Md Taslim passed on this information to the police but strangely the police did not arrest them. Taslim was branded an informer by unknown people on Facebook and was shot at during his sleep at his home by unknown assailants fifteen days later.. He was hospitalised and was saved but he became paralysed.
A woman prays at St Anthony’s church, where 54 people died in the Easter attacks. Photograph: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images
Six days after the attacks the two brothers were arrested as their involvement in the attacks was established. The weapons used in the attacks belonged to them.
In October the general elections were held while the incident was still fresh in the minds of the people and the opposition took advantage of the failures of the President Srisena and Prime Minister Ranil Vikramasinghe. Strangely enough, the anti -Muslim Buddhist monk and leader of Bodu Bala Sena who was in jail for six years for contempt of court was released earlier perhaps to incite Sinhala people against the Muslims to win the elections.
The Sirisena government lost and Rajapaksa came to power.
The Rajapaksa government has not brought much relief to the Muslims. However, the disclosures have brought some relief for the Muslims. The Muslim cabinet ministers who had resigned were later re-sworn in and Dr Shafi was released on bail. But much has not change. The attacks carried out by the ISIS-NTJ have aggravated the problems of the Muslims in the island. They face greater bias, discrimination and persecution.
During the Covid-19 pandemic they faced open and brazen discrimination by the authorities. Muslims were branded Covid carriers and relatives of Muslim victims of Covid-19 were treated like dogs by the police and health authorities. The organs of deceased patients of Covid-19 were even removed without their permission.
This is how a handful of extremist Muslims of Sri Lanka influenced by the ISIS caused irreparable damage to the entire Muslim population of Sri Lanka. The radicalised youth become a tool of persecution of their own community at the hands of anti-Muslim establishment. But the Muslims are not able to realise the harm the ISIS and Al Qaida have been causing to them in the name of establishing caliphate and saving them from persecution and injustice.
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