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Millennium Post

Intelligence inaction

Intelligence inaction

As the death toll touched 315, Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka bombings that shook the country, plunging it into a state of emergency. Prior to their claim, the Sri Lankan government had identified two local Islamist radical groups as perpetrators of the dastardly attack. In a bulletin released yesterday by ISIS's news agency, Amaq, the group stated that the attacks were carried out by "Islamic State fighters". They also stated the targets were Christians as well as citizens of countries belonging to the coalition fighting ISIS. State Minister of Defense, Ruwan Wijewardene had informed the Parliament that preliminary investigations cited the coordinated attacks as a retaliation to the mosque shooting against Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. Wijewardene had stated that the two radical groups – National Thowheed Jamaath and Jamiyyathul Millath Ibrahim – were responsible. But officials had admitted to foreign support with the scale of explosives used in the blasts. The improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were used as suicide bombings in most of the blasts targeting churches and hotels in three different cities of the island nation on Easter Sunday. The bridge between the Islamic State and the two local Islamic extremist cults are off the books right now but not unlikely. The group has explicitly called for assaults on churches, particularly since the New Zealand mosque attacks. And, with ISIS implicitly stating similar feeling, it gets more likely. Even Sri Lankan Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne stated in a press conference on Monday that "There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded." While the responsibility and emergency steps follow later, inaction over intelligence available of such an attack remains a serious issue. As per Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), a ten-day prior warning was issued that National Thowheed Jamaath was planning to stage suicide attacks against "popular Catholic churches and the Indian High Commission". Deputy inspector-general of police Priyalal Disanayake on April 11, had circulated the warning with copies marked to his immediate superior, as well as the Ministry of Defence, and officials in-charge of the security of government ministers, the judiciary, and diplomats.

Failure in tightening security despite credible intelligence shows a lackadaisical approach which has cost many lives. Pulwama is a case in point after reports had confirmed of intelligence suggesting a plot which unfortunately could not be prevented resulting in the death of 44 CRPF personnel in a similar IED suicide blast. Intelligence not put to effective use attracts criticism. A machinery to do exactly what it did and yet loss had to be sustained is a situation which demands investigation. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged that some information about a planned attack had been circulating and that they must look into why precautions were not taken. Sri Lanka swiftly blocked social media and WhatsApp to contain the spread of false information which could potentially lead to anti-communal sentiments and worse. The Prime Minister vowed to "vest all necessary powers" in defense forces to act against the culprits of this cowardice act.

The seizure of over 100 kilograms of military-grade explosives, as well as detonators and ammunition, at a remote farm compound in Wanathawilluwa early this year had put intelligence services of both India and Sri Lanka on alert as they focussed on Thowheed Jamaath. Lack of coordinated plans to limit access to public hubs such as churches, increase surveillance across cities and alert people of security measures in place over credible warning caught the country off-guard as people perished. Even a simple issue of state warning by the government would have curtailed the extent of damage. The massacre has stunned Sri Lanka which had been stable for a decade now after the disastrous civil war which had ravaged the country for more than two decades. Islamic State's involvement in this massacre, more so in relation to Christchurch shooting as evident by Christians as main targets of the coordinated attacks across the nation, represents both their growing outreach and sizeable impact. And, their public disclosures of claiming responsibility only strengthens their morale and reputation as they continue to be a threat to all the nations alike. While investigations will unravel the plot which has shocked not only Sri Lanka but other countries including India, which needs to be wary of unforeseeable attacks in the future owing to heightened extremist activities in the region. A military grade arsenal and over-the-sea outreach make Islamic State a deadly threat. Intelligence-sharing on a global scale should be initiated to contain the group and its activities otherwise similar incidents will follow. Counter-terrorism needs to be enhanced several-folds and international cooperations over the same needs to be facilitated to fight such detrimental elements.

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