The Sri Lanka attacks a view from New Delhi
St. Anthony's Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Credit: mathes/Bigstockphoto.com)

Easter celebrations were marred by terrorist attacks on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Sunday morning. Initial reports claimed hundreds of fatalities and injuries, including over 30 foreigners dead as six blasts ripped through Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, and a further two bombs went off in Batticaloa on the country’s east coast and Negombo to the north of the capital.

The tragedy represents the deadliest violence Sri Lanka has seen since a bloody Civil war ended a decade ago. Whether or not it is a precursor to greater manifestations of terrorist plans, only the time will tell. The Sri Lankan prime minister confirmed an intelligence tip-off was received from the Indian secret service about ten days ago and he has ordered a full inquiry into how effectively the information was used. The attacks all appeared to have been planned and executed with precision, with the six morning explosions in Colombo occurring simultaneously at St. Anthony’s Church, a Catholic church known for its openness to those of all faiths, and The Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La, and Kingsbury hotels. Two hours later, two more bombs were detonated at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic-majority town north of Colombo and the Protestant Zion Church in the Eastern town of Batticaloa.

Whether or not the violence is a precursor to greater manifestations of terrorist plans, only the time will tell

India’s Minister of External Affairs, Smt. Sushma Swaraj, confirmed information about the deaths of three Indian nationals and at least 31 other foreign nationals. She expressed India’s condemnation of the terror attacks, widely thought to have been carried out by religious extremists, and expressed the condolences and deep sympathies conveyed separately to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by India’s Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.

Sri Lanka’s Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said that Sri Lanka’s Police Chief had sent a nationwide alert ten days before Sunday’s attacks, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit prominent churches and hotels, as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo. The National Thawheed Jamath terror group were named as suspected perpetrators.

The tragic bombings in Sri Lanka over Easter have drawn attention to an axis of radicalisation stretching from the Maldives to Bangladesh, where Islamic State-inspired cells have been regularly linked to terror incidents. Thawheed Jamath is thought to have split off in 2016 from the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath, another Islamist group related to other organisations active in Tamil Nadu, India. National Thawheed Jamath remains the prime suspect in this case and the blasts have drawn similarities to the Holey Artisan Bakery attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2016.

In the meantime, the activities of the terrorist group may not yet have subsided. The situation is being monitored by both Sri Lankan and Indian anti-terror services. In India, the process of the general elections is continuing throughout the country and much of the state machinery, including security forces, is being deployed to handle General Elections.

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Suresh A. Keswani

Special Adviser, DOC Research Institute,

Suresh A. Keswani, MA, LLB, is an activist involved with the poverty alleviation programmes of the World Bank and the IMF. He is a former Indian politician who has represented Maharashtra in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India's parliament. As a member of parliament, he served on the Parliament Standing Committee on Defence and also held membership of the Standing Committee of Finance, where he shaped legislation regarding the banking and insurance sectors. Alongside members of parliament from seven different countries, he co-founded the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank, which works with the World Bank on poverty alleviation and economic development projects. He acts as an associate member of the organisation's governing board and was invited to work on the UN's Millennium Development Goals