Counter Terrorism Perspectives: CTP

TM: "Islamic State’s Easter Sunday Attacks in Sri Lanka: Assessing the Government’s Response Two Years On"

April 10, 2021

Two years ago, on April 21, 2019, eight suicide bombers affiliated with the Islamic State (IS)-linked local jihadist groups National Towheed Jamaat (NTJ) and Jammiyat-ul Millathu Ibrahim (JMI) carried out deadly terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, targeting luxury hotels and Catholic churches. The synchronized attacks on that fateful Easter Sunday killed or injured over 750 people. Responsibility for the coordinated bombings was claimed by IS on April 23, 2019, through official news outlet Amaq News Agency, which released a video showing the attackers led by Zaharan Hasim, pledging allegiance to the IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Ada Derana, April 23, 2019).

Two years after this violence, the clamour for decisive action has risen across Sri Lanka. Amid growing dissent against delays in bringing the perpetrators to justice, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assured the nation in this year’s Easter message that he would ensure national security and prevent a recurrence of such terrorism in the country (Ceylon Today, April 3). The most vehement criticism against the government sluggishness has come from the Archbishop of Colombo and head of Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who called for a ‘Black Sunday’ protest to express dissent against delays in implementing the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI)’s recommendations (Daily Mirror, March 8). The PCoI was appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena on September 22, 2019, to investigate the Easter Sunday attacks and empowered the Commission to recommend necessary actions.

The political and religious tensions escalated amid the government’s inability to take decisive action against the groups and individuals named in the PCoI report submitted to the President on February 1, 2021. The PCoI, which was headed by a Supreme Court judge and included five other members, operated for 18 months and recording the statements of 457 witnesses. The final report that was submitted comprised 472 pages, 215 attachments, and six volumes (Daily News, February 2). Through its investigations into the Easter Sunday violence, the Sri Lankan police have identified nearly 290 suspects.

  • Easter Sunday Attack Findings and Faultlines
  • Islamic State’s Persistent Interest in Sri Lanka

For the Complete Article, Read, "Islamic State’s Easter Sunday Attacks in Sri Lanka: Assessing the Government’s Response Two Years On", Terrorism Monitor, (Jamestown Foundation), Vol.19 (7), April 09, 2021. 

Animesh Roul is the executive director of the New Delhi-based policy research group Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict. The author acknowledges the support of Government of the Netherlands and the Global Centre on Cooperative Security for an ongoing research project on Transnational Jihadist threat in South Asia. Views expressed in the paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Centre or the Government of the Netherlands.


[1] For a detailed profile of Naufar Maulvi’s role in the Easter Sunday violence, see: Animesh Roul, “Mentor, Provocateur or Mastermind? Understanding Naufar Moulavi’s Role in Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday Attack,” Militant Leadership Monitor, Vol. 12 (1), January 2021.

[2] See, Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 01 of 2021, Colombo, March 9, 2021.