Monday 20 May 2019

Obscure group of Islamist vandals 'may have had international help'

Anger: People try to beat a person held by police near a church in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte
Anger: People try to beat a person held by police near a church in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Ben Farmer

Before the group was named prime suspect in the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, few had heard of National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ).

It is believed to have splintered off from another hardline Islamist group in the country, the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ).

Abdul Razik, the secretary of the SLTJ, was arrested in 2016 for inciting hatred against Buddhists and he later issued an apology.

The NTJ has not claimed responsibility for Easter Sunday's bloodshed, but a cabinet minister yesterday suggested the government believes it is behind the attacks.

How a fringe group known previously only for anti-Buddhist vandalism could have morphed into the apparently well-trained, heavily armed group that carried out Sunday's co-ordinated attacks against Christian and tourist targets is unclear.

The sudden transformation could have caught the security agencies off guard, offering one possible explanation as to why they did not take the intelligence warnings as seriously as would have been expected.

But the group would also have needed help, the Sri Lankan government believes. What form that help took, whether it was just encouragement and inspiration, or something more concrete, is not clear.

As Colombo last night looked for international links, the Sri Lankan presidency said in a statement: "Intelligence sections have reported that there are international terror groups which are behind local terrorists."

The Sri Lanka bombings bore all the "hallmarks" of "attacks by other Salafi-jihadist groups, particularly those where local groups receive foreign support", according to the Soufan Centre, a New York-based group that monitors global security threats.

A report released by the group in January said al-Qa'ida and Isil wanted to recruit followers in South Asia and their propaganda "highlighted injustices against Muslims in Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, and Sri Lanka".

Irish Independent

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