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What Is So Different From All the Others Was the Target of This Act of Terrorism in Sri Lanka, Claimed By ISIS

By Philip Williams

25 April 2019

It is a sound so heart-wrenching it is almost impossible to bear.

It is a sound that knows no boundaries. A mother's wail, piercing and painful, sounds the same in France, Syria, Britain, Belgium or Turkey.

What is so different from all the others was the target of this act of terrorism.

Sri Lanka has had more than enough violence in the past but little, if any, was directed at the Christian community that makes up about 7 per cent of the country.

But then who would ever have guessed the carnage that so shocked the good people of quiet, safe Christchurch?

Certainly, the Sri Lankan Government suspects local radical Islamist group National Tawheed Jamaath was involved in the co-ordinated attacks.

The group, led by radical preacher Mohammed Zaharan, has been blamed for previous attacks on Buddhist statues.

A Sri Lankan intelligence report noted Zaharan has, since 2016, "preached to his followers that the murder of nonbelievers is a most noble religious endeavour and that Islam should be spread through such acts".

But few believe this group could have mounted such highly coordinated, deadly assaults without expert help.

"This is the biggest terror attack in history outside 9/11 and outside some attacks in conflict zones — it's not something a group of amateurs could pull off," Deakin University terrorism expert Greg Barton said.

On Tuesday night, two days after the bombings, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Islamic State's AMAQ news agency released a video it claims shows the bombers pledging allegiance to the terror group.

The Sri Lankan Government is investigating what it clearly thinks is a strong link — that IS supplied the material and the bomb-making expertise.

According to Sri Lanka's Junior Minister for Defence, Ruwan Wijewardene, the likely motivation for the attack was revenge for the Christchurch massacres.

But that is a theory not supported by Professor Barton, who notes an attack of this scale "would have been many, many months in planning".

"So Christchurch was just too recent."

But Professor Barton does think it's likely IS was involved.

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremeshinghe, suspects some of those involved in the plot may have even fought with IS in places like Syria and Iraq.

"They [security intelligence] feel that some of them have travelled abroad and come back," he said.

"There may be more than that and that's what we want to find. That's why we asked for assistance on this issue.

"Some countries have to conduct their own investigation because their own nationals were killed in this blast."

Finding out who was responsible and neutralising the threat is the first responsibility of the Sri Lankan Government and its security and intelligence agencies.

But concurrently, a monumental blame game is underway following the apparent ignoring of intelligence warnings that such an attack was imminent.

Sri Lanka's President, Maithripala Sirisena, said he knew nothing of the intelligence reports and now the recriminations are beginning.

It's a spectre made worse by deep political divisions that pit President against Prime Minister.

And IS will continue to take credit for this, the worst terror attack since the twin towers slaughter in 2001.

It urged its members and supporters around the world to destroy its enemies in their home countries.

What happened in Sri Lanka looks very like the coordinated slaughter we saw in 2015 in Paris that left 130 dead.

Even if IS didn't directly plan the Sri Lankan outrage, it will still provide inspiration for disparate groups around the world that want to hurt what they perceive as the enemies of Islam.

It may have lost its caliphate, but not its power to inflict terrible pain in places around the world.