ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka

Terror and the Rise of Violent Extremism

Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka

The terror attacks in Sri Lanka point to the fact that violent extremism has been spreading its tentacles, and has been breeding on existing sectarian fault lines,between the Sinhala Buddhists and the Muslims. This is a warning bell for majoritarian states in South Asia to recognise that internal conflicts are no longer internal, and that the rights, freedom and security of its minorities need to be safeguarded.

The deadly terror attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka have left more than 250 dead, and close to 400 injured across the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. This is the bloodiest attack in Sri Lanka, since the termination of the civil war in 2009, between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka. The terror attacks underline fault lines that are not ethnic but religious as they involve the island’s two religious minorities, the Christians and the Muslims. Further, these fault lines draw attention to marks of violent extremism propagated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with links to local organisations, in this case, the National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim (JMI) (Economic Times 2019).

In Sri Lanka, 74.9% or three-fourths of the total population is comprised of Sinhalese, with the rest comprising of 11.2% Sri Lankan Tamils, 9.3% Sri Lankan Moors, 4.1% Indian Tamils, and 0.5% Other (Census 2012). Further, the 2012 census indicates that Buddhists make up 70.1% of the population, Hindus 12.6%, Muslims 9.7% and Christians 7.6%. Most Sinhalese are Buddhist; while a majority of Tamils are Hindu; and the Moors and Malays are mostly Muslim. Sizeable minorities of both Sinhalese and Tamils are Christians, 6.2% of whom are Roman Catholic. The Burgher population is largely Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. The attack raises critical questions such as why did the terrorists, with alleged links to the Islamic State mount an attack on the island’s smallest minority, the Christians? Does this indicate that global sectarian fault lines, exemplified by the acts of terror by ISIS, are playing out in newer territories like Sri Lanka, where there already exists a complex array of internal conflicts? According to government sources, nine homegrown, well-educated suicide bombers carried out the attacks, eight of whom have been identified. The investigations have so far focused on international links to the two domestic Islamist groups—the NTJ and the JMI—that allegedly carried out the attacks (Miglani and Sirilal 2019). If this case of homegrown terror with transnational links is established, it would point towards the dangers of growing religious extremism and radicalisation not just in Sri Lanka but in the South Asian subcontinent at large. More importantly, it calls for analysts and policymakers to recognise threats from growing religious radicalisation and violent extremism with transnational links to ISIS, which is taking into its ambit young people, given the complex array of local, regional, and transnational factors.

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Updated On : 22nd May, 2019

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