Counter Terrorism Perspectives: CTP

TM: "Sri Lanka Struggles to Solve the Islamic State-Local Network Puzzle"

September 20, 2019

On August 23, the Sri Lankan government ended a four-month-long state of emergency that was declared after multiple suicide bombings inspired by the Islamic State (IS) rocked the South Asian nation (Colombo Page, August 23).  Over 250 people died and scores were injured when on April 21, Easter Sunday, suicide bombers targeted popular hotels and churches in the capital city of Colombo, Dehiwala, Negombo (on the East Coast), and Batticoloa (on the West Coast). As investigations proceeded, evidence emerged of the involvement of local Islamist groups and individuals inspired and affiliated with IS. The government moved on May 13 to ban three local Salafi-jihadist groups—National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim (JMI), and Willayath-As-Seylani (WAS), under the regulations of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). [1] These three organizations have been banned “for the purpose of ensuring the continuance of peace within the country and in the interest of national security, public order, and the rule of law” (Colombo Page, May 14).

The NTJ and JMI had earlier claimed responsibility through IS’ Amaq news agency on April 23. The Amaq agency video subsequently released showcased the Easter day bombers and the NTJ’s renegade leader Muhammad Zahran Hashim and his associates pledging allegiance to IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The government investigators now believe that before his death, Zahran Hashim and his fellow militants from NTJ and JMI formed the hybrid Willayath-As-Seylani (WAS). WAS is supposedly a new province of IS, with the goal of raising the group’s banner in Sri Lanka. However, information about WAS is currently sparse, as the government has been hesitant to confirm any physical manifestation, or even virtual inroads, of IS on Sri Lankan soil.

Persisting Ambiguity 

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena said in mid-May that “99 percent” of the remaining suspects in the Easter Sunday attacks have been arrested and their explosive materials seized. His reassuring comments were aimed at tourists, urging them to return to the Indian Ocean island nation. On July 30, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake made a contradictory statement before the Parliamentary Select Committee in charge of the probe of the attacks. He conveyed strongly that Islamist terrorists are still operating at various places in the country and the threats they posed were far from over. Alarmingly, he pointed out that the security agencies are not in a position to say that whether the on-going jihadist problem will be over “within six months or six years” (, August 1). With the lifting of the state of emergency, the security agencies in charge of investigations insisted that the ban would remain on these three groups and the suspects arrested following the deadly bombings will not be set free (Colombo Gazette, August 24).

For Complete Article, Read, "Sri Lanka Struggles to Solve the Islamic State-Local Network Puzzle​​​​",​Terrorism Monitor, (Jamestown Foundation) Vol: 17 (17), September 10, 2019.