The News – India’s ‘strong man’ foreign policy

Waqar Ahmed

23 December 2019. As we can see that India’s foreign policy towards Pakistan is to show brawn or muscles over the years, especially under the BJP government. New Delhi has consistently refused to hold meaningful talks with Islamabad on any tangible issue. The only policy that South Block thinks would work on Pakistan is to blame Islamabad for all the faults in the world.

It thinks that Pakistan is responsible for secessionist movements in India, growing corruption, sinking economy, large number of rapes and also perhaps lack of toilets.

When Indian politicians talk about Pakistan creating smog in northern India, it shows their wretched mentality. BJP’s manifesto has stated that “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.”

The world is slowly but surely working out that BJP’s ideology is detrimental to India’s secular and democratic credentials. Traditionally, India has been a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that according to its framers provided legal equality for all, but sadly no more.

The religion and caste-based discrimination is becoming functional every day and lynchings of Muslims more common.

What happened recently in Kashmir is an eye-opener for the world. While the international media is focused on India’s exacting steps in the held Valley, the Modi government is trying to take the global spotlight off the unwarranted situation in the disputed region.

But the Kashmir issue has been successfully internationalised by Pakistan. King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, on a visit to India, demanded the Indian authorities to lift curfew in occupied Kashmir and also offered mediation to resolve the matter.

He said his country had been acting as an observer in the occupied valley for the past several years and would continue to do so.

“We emphasise the importance of respect for human rights, that an escalation of the situation in Kashmir is avoided and that a long-term political solution to the situation must involve Kashmir’s inhabitants,” Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Riksdag or the Swedish parliament recently.

Dialogue between India and Pakistan is crucial.

But there will be no dialogue on Kashmir or any other issue in foreseeable future. Ajit Doval, the Indian security czar, came from intelligence corps, not diplomatic corps. He has narrow focus on diplomatic issues and foreign policy.

Doval is fond of covert action, which he defined as “a low cost sustainable offensive with high deniability aimed to bleed the enemy to submission.”

This is how he has been playing with India’s foreign policy towards Pakistan. But has he been successful? The answer is no as Pakistan’s security forces have blunted the coordinated terrorism in the country and the likes if Kulbhushan Yadav are behind the bar. Similarly, India is not finding its way with Iran and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, ahead of his visit to New Delhi, said that he wanted to work very closely with both India and China. Gotabaya further said his government would not do anything that would threaten India’s security and that his country’s involvement with China was purely commercial.

But will Sri Lanka forget the malicious role played by India in the proxy war on its soil? The LTTE was fully funded and supported by India in an attempt to destabilize Sri Lanka and create a homeland for Tamils. Sri Lanka will only further its national interests and will not become an Indian proxy.

With the world now closely watching the Kashmir situation and India coming under intense pressure, Modi’s tough policy with Pakistan has certainly backfired. With regard to Pakistan, and on the Kashmir issue, it had unintended consequences and internationalized the capture of held Valley by New Delhi through revoking Article 370. – The Daily Fix: Why India will find it tough to ensure that Sri Lanka keeps its promises to Tamils

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made it clear political rights of minority Tamils will not be his focus.

Sruthisagar Yamunan

New Delhi – India, 04 December 2019. Last month, Sri Lanka witnessed a regime change as the Rajapaksa brothers came back to power. While Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the president, his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa has been appointed the prime minister.

Both have faced allegations of ordering war crimes during the last stint in power, when thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan military in the final stages of the civil war in 2009.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first visit abroad was to India last week. He met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar went to Colombo to personally deliver the invitation.

However, the Sri Lankan president’s comments after his meeting with Modi have raised concerns about how the new regime will handle the question of the country’s Tamil minority. Rajapaksa made it clear in an interview to The Hindu that devolving political rights to the Tamil-dominated areas will not be his priority. Rather, he will focus on the regions’ economic development.

The majoritarian language he deployed to make this point was startling. Full devolution of powers as per the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987 will not be implemented “against the wishes and feeling of the majority [Sinhala] community”, he said.

The comment invited sharp criticism from politicians in Tamil Nadu, who urged the Modi government to ensure the safety and dignity of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Many in the southern Indian state feel that economic development without consummate political rights will lead to a demographic alteration of the Tamil regions, given the difference in prosperity between Tamils and majority Sinhala population.

However, as The Indian Express argued, Modi is in no position to push Sri Lanka on the question of rights for Tamils after what his own government has done in Kashmir.

The Centre removed the special status given to Kashmiris under the Indian Constitution in August and enforced a complete lock down of the region to stop people from protesting. Some of the restrictions on communications continue to date.

In a way, what India has done in Kashmir is to reverse the devolution of some rights agreed to around the time of Independence, when the region acceded to India. Having acted in this manner at home, it will be impossible for the Modi government to demand a higher degree of rights and autonomy for a minority population in another country.

This is possibly what emboldened Rajapaksa to make the statements that he did right after a meeting with Modi. During the meeting, the Indian prime minister said he was confident that the Sri Lankan government would pursue a process of reconciliation to meet the “aspirations of equality, justice, peace and respect of Tamils”.

Persuading Sri Lanka to devolve rights to the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is a commitment that successive Indian governments had made. This culminated in the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987. While parties in power may change in India, this should not affect the policy of the government. In its eagerness to keep the Chinese away from Sri Lanka, the Indian government should not ignore its promises to Tamils across the Palk Straits.

The Pioneer – Tamil Nadu and Tamils in danger, warns Vaiko

Kumar Chellappan

Chennai – Tamil Nadu – India, 10 July 2019. Vayapuri Gopalasamy, known as Vaiko, has alleged that both Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Eelam are in danger as the BJP and the RSS have chalked out a plan to destroy the Tamils. He also lambasted the Congress government for betraying the Sri Lankan Tamils in their fight for a separate country.

Speaking to reporters at Chennai on Tuesday after his nomination form for the upcoming Rajya Sabha election was accepted by the Returning Officer, Vaiko said it was the then Congress Government at the Centre that betrayed the Tamils in Sri Lanka which resulted in the defeat of the LTTE in the hands of the island nation’s defence forces.

The MDMK general secretary, who has been nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha as an act of goodwill by the DMK president M K Stalin said that he would raise his voice for the Tamils and the formation of a separate Tamil Eelam. Though Vaiko did not name the Congress for betrayal of Tamils in Sri Lanka, he came down heavily on BJP for its efforts to destroy the natural resources and wealth of the State.

He said though the State was being robbed of its natural resources and environment, he was aghast that there were no uprisings in Tamil Nadu. “Tamil Nadu is in danger and that is reason why I agreed to be a member of the Rajya Sabha. I’ll fight against the BJP and its Hindutva politics,” said Vaiko.

Vaiko, the LTTE’s Tamil Nadu face, does not miss any opportunity to praise the volunteers of the terrorist organisation and its slain leader V Prabhakaran, He is also in the forefront in the agitation to set free the seven assassins of Rajiv Gandhi who are undergoing life term in a Chennai prison.—tamils-in-danger–warns-vaiko.html

World Sikh News – Ethnic Cleansing of Tamils in Sri Lanka, a timeline of Buddhist extremism

The learned author explains why Tamils had struggled for Tamil Eelam and how Tamils who were the original inhabitants of Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, were systematically reduced to second-class citizens in the island nation. The article was first published in World Sikh News in December 2007. Social scientists need to see this as an aspect of contemporary history as a chapter of Buddhist extremism.

Suppiramaniam Makenthiran

In 1948, the very year that the British handed over the Ceylon Government to the Sinhalese majority on a platter without any safeguards for minorities, the Sinhalesedominated government passed a law rendering half the Ceylon Tamil population stateless in the land of their birth.

Under the Ceylon Citizenship Act, of the nearly two million Tamils in Ceylon, over one million Upcountry Tamils, who had lived in Cey­lon for generations, were deprived of their citizenship. To make matters worse, the Sinhalese government disenfranchised these Tamils by depriving them of their voting rights by passing the Ceylon Elections Amendment Act.

The Upcountry Tamil leaders launched a peaceful satyagraha to protest against this racist policy, but it was ignored by the government. The first Prime Minister of Ceylon, D S Senanayake, a scheming racist, set the dangerous precedent for others to follow.

Subsequently, there was massive landgrabbing, forcing planned colonization of the traditional homeland of the Tamils in the North­east by settling Sinhalese from the South. Indigenous Tamils were uprooted and Sinhalese criminals made to reside in Tamil-dominated villages. All protests by Tamils and their leaders were scrupulously ignored.

In 1956, the Sinhalese government passed the Sinhala Only Act, making Sin­hala the only official language, divesting official status of the Tamil language. The Tamil language spoken by Tamils and Muslims was the mother tongue of one-third of the people of Ceylon, but it was suppressed. This cultural attack was carried out by Prime Minister Mrs Bandaranayake.

Further­more, in 1956, Sinhalese mobs attacked and drove out Tamils from their villages in the Gal Oya Valley in the Batticaloa district. This was the commencement of Sinhala mob terrorism against unarmed Tamils. The police were ineffective and remained mute spectators.

The next step in the genocidal programme was to stop employment to Tamils. Those already in the government service were deprived of their increments unless they passed the Sinhala proficiency tests.

In 1957 Tamil leaders signed the Bandaranayake-Chelvanayagam Pact with the Sinhalese government, to devolve power to regional councils, but it was soon unilaterally and dishonestly abrogated. Again in 1965, Tamil leaders signed the Chelvanayagam-Senanayake Pact to devolve power to district councils was also abrogated.

In 1958 Sin­halese mobs and criminals unleashed terror against the Tamils all over the Sinhalese provinces. Tamils were massacred, their houses burnt, people burnt alive, women raped and tortured. Rendered defenceless, over a 100,000 Tamils fled to their tradi­tional homelands in the Northeast.

In 1970, by a scheme of standardization, Tamil students were discriminated and barred from higher education. Tamil students were required to score higher marks than the Sinhalese for admission to higher studies.

In the early sixties of the last century, Mrs Srimavo Bandaranayake indulged in the mass deportation of the stateless and disenfranchised Upcountry Tamils to India. The Indian government colluded with the Ceylon government in this move by signing the Srimavo-Sashtri Pact in 1964. Half a million Tamils were forced out of Ceylon to India.

In 1974 the Sinhala state unleashed police violence against the Tamils who had gathered to hold the Tamil Research Conference in Jaffna, killing nine and wounding many. In 1976 the Sinhalese police opened fire at a mosque killing many Tamil-speaking Muslims.

In 1977 the UNP government of Prime Minister J R Jayawardena unleashed mob violence against the Tamils particularly in the plantations, killing hundreds of innocent people. Nearly 40,000 Tamils were made refugees and destitute and many fled to India. Nearly 100 Hindu temples were destroyed with the active involvement of Sinhalese politicians.

In 1978 the Sri Lankan Parliament enacted the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act and armed forces were given a free hand to kill Tamil youth. Torture camps were set up and Tamils disappeared involuntarily in large numbers. The government unleashed the Sinhalese and Muslim homeguards to oppress Tamils.

In 1981, the Sinhalese armed forces rampaged in Jaffna, killing and setting fire to buildings including the historic Jaffna Public Library containing 94,000 invaluable books. This act of cultural genocide was carried out by two Sinhala ministers, Athulathmudali and Cyril Mathew, who were present in Jaffna at the time of the attack.

The Sin­halese government chased out Tamils from their villages in large numbers in the Northeast and replaced them with Sinhalese from the South. Plantation Tamils, who had taken refuge in North­east due to Sinhala terror, were forcibly put into buses and dumped in the Central Province.

Tamil students in the University of Peradeniya were also attacked. Tamils were arrested in large numbers and held without trial for long pe­riods. Many were tortured and many disappeared, obviously involuntarily. In the We­likade jail, many Tamil prisoners were killed in July 1983.

The devastation to the Sri Lankan Tamil people caused by the Sinhalese pogrom reduced the Tamil population to 30 per cent of what it was in 1948. It is time that the Sinhalese accused are tried for genocide and crimes against humanity.

This reign of terror continued during the tenure of J R Jayawardena, Premadasa, and Chandrika Kumaratunga. The Sinhala armed forces continued a reign of state terror. Mass arrests, killings, disappearances, torture, rape, burning of houses, destruction of schools, hospitals, businesses, shops, temples and churches rendered Tamils destitute. Tamil villages were bull­dozed and the army followed a scorched-earth policy in the Tamil homeland.

S Makenthiran is a graduate of the University of Ceylon, Colombo and a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants of the UK. He has served in Sri Lanka and different countries in Africa including Zambia, Malawi and Botswana. He was a World Bank Project Finance Officer, before emigrating to Canada. In Canada he works as an accountancy, financial and tax consultant.

Ethnic Cleansing of Tamils in Sri Lanka -a timeline of Buddhist extremism

The Hindu – Sri Lankan Finance Minister takes on Buddhist monk’s racially charged comments

He urges ‘true Buddhists’ to unite against the ‘Talibanisation’ of the religion.

Meera Srinivasan

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 19 June 2019. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Wednesday slammed a Buddhist monk’s controversial comments targeting Muslims and urged “true Buddhists” to unite against the “Talibanisation” of the religion.

In a tweet he posted on Wednesday morning, Mr Samaraweera said: “True Buddhists must unite NOW against the Talibanization of our great philosophy of peace & love of all beings. No Buddhist can condone a statement to stone another human being to death, even if it emanates from the robed orders. #lka”

His message comes days after a senior monk attached to Asgiriya Chapter, one of the two most influential Buddhist orders in Sri Lanka, accused Muslims of “destroying the country”, and called for a boycott of Muslim-run shops and businesses.

“Don’t eat from those (Muslim) shops,” the monk said, at a temple ceremony in the central city of Kandy, near the famous Buddhist temple of the tooth relic.

In the two months since the April 21 Easter bombings, which killed about 260 people, reactionary forces in the country have resorted to anti-Muslim violence and targeted hate-speech in more than one occasion.

Further, referring to a Muslim doctor who has been in the centre of an unsubstantiated sterilisation scare, the senior monk said the doctor was doing a “heroic” deed by destroying “hundreds of thousands” Sinhalese children.

“These traitors must not be allowed to live in freedom. Some female devotees said that they should be stoned to death. I don’t say this, but what should be done is this,” the monk said, according to translations by the local media of his speech in Sinhala.

The Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka wield significant influence in national politics. Hard-line monks have in the past resorted to hate speech with little consequence, evoking concern among many Sri Lankans troubled by the apparent impunity enjoyed by saffron-robed religious leaders.

Mr Samaraweera, the only prominent politician so far to directly challenge the Asgiriya-affiliated monk’s racially-charged comments, earlier challenged a fasting Buddhist monk’s demand that three Muslim politicians resign over alleged links to Easter suspects.

Following the collective resignation of nine Muslim Ministers early in June, he tweeted: “Hatred is never appeased by hatred. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal. Today, it was left to our Muslim Ministers to exhibit this sacred teaching of Lord Buddha while impostors in robes incited hatred in his name. A shameful day for our beloved #lka”

Earlier, Mr. Samaraweera accused Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of “fanning the flames of hatred and communalism by visiting fasting robed MP Rathana”, the monk who went on a “fast unto death”, demanding that the Muslim politicians step down.

The Hindu – Dozens arrested after anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka PM appeals for calm after a man is stabbed to death

Meera Srinivasan

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 14 May 2019. Sri Lanka police arrested dozens and remanded nearly 30 persons on Tuesday, in connection with the spate of anti-Muslim attacks in at least three districts over the past two days.

A 45-year-old Muslim man, who ran a timber store in Kurunegala district in the North Western Province, died of stab injuries.

According to residents of the villages in the area, at least two busloads of people, aided by “local goons”, carried out attacks on mosques, Muslim-owned shops and homes on Sunday night and Monday afternoon, in the worst outbreak of violence since the April 21 Easter bombings.

Similar attacks were reported in parts of nearby Gampaha and Puttalam districts.

“The fact that the mobs arrived in buses showed that these attacks were planned,” said Hilmy Ahmed, vice-president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella body of Muslim civil society organisations. “It was very much like the previous instances of anti-Muslim attacks,” he told The Hindu.

On Tuesday, the stench of a gutted factory in an interior road of Minuwangoda, about 40 km north east of Colombo, filled the vicinity. The pasta factory was the only Muslim-owned property on that stretch, according a middle-aged man running a small shop facing the factory.

“I was right here yesterday evening, when 300 to 400 people entered the factory and set it on fire. Six workers were injured trying to escape,” he said, requesting not to be named. The mob, he said, came from the town area after attacking several Muslim-owned stores there.

Amith Weerasinghe of Mahason Balakaya, a Sinhala-Buddhist group; and Namal Kumara, a self-declared anti-corruption activist, were arrested on Tuesday for questioning in connection with Monday’s violence, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told The Hindu.

Inciting violence

Mr Weerasinghe was earlier accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence in Digana near Kandy in March 2018. He was arrested following the attacks and granted bail in October last.

Mr Kumara made news when he claimed he was aware of a plot to kill President Maithripala Sirisena. Police also arrested Dan Priyasad, of hard-line Sinhala nationalist group Nawa Sinhale, in connection with the attacks.

Meanwhile, a prominent legislator aligned to President Sirisena, came into focus in the wake of Monday’s mob attacks.

Dayasiri Jayasekara, general secretary of Mr Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and a former Minister, visited a police station in one of the affected villages to reportedly transfer six suspects, who were in custody for allegedly violating the curfew, to another police station and to have them released on bail.

When contacted, Mr Jayasekara, an MP from Kurunegala, said he went to his area after reports of a huge crowd agitating in front of a police station. “I went there to help transfer the suspects to another police station to avoid any violence,” he told The Hindu, accusing social media of “distorting” his visit.

Appealing for calm, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the public not to be swayed by false information.

Cabinet Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem said allowing such violence and “pre-planned attacks” was a reward to the “demented individuals” who carried out the Easter bombings. “This is exactly what they wanted,” he told The Hindu.

M A Sumanthiran, spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance and Jaffna district parliamentarian said: “We appeal to the government: Do not let that happen. Do not let yet another community in Sri Lanka feel that in order to survive in this country, it must fight for itself.”

Dawn – Nationwide curfews, social media block in Sri Lanka after anti-Muslim riots

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 13 May 2019. Sri Lanka imposed a nationwide six-hour night curfew and banned Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms on Monday after anti-Muslim riots gripped several towns in the latest fallout from the Easter bombings.

Christian groups attacked Muslim-owned shops in a sign of the ongoing religious tension in Sri Lanka since the April 21 attacks by suicide bombers on three hotels and three churches which left 258 dead.

A night curfew in several towns north of Colombo was lifted at dawn, but reimposed 10 hours later as tensions were fuelled by persistent rumours of mob violence. The curfew was later extended across the island, police said in a statement.

Police said a Catholic priest had sent out a message to parishioners about possible attacks, causing panic among some people in violence-prone areas.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged the public not to believe rumours and warned that civil unrest will only stretch the already thinly deployed security forces.

“I appeal to all citizens to remain calm and not be swayed by false information,” Wickremesinghe said on Twitter, which was not targeted in the social media blockade.

“Security forces are working tirelessly to apprehend terrorists and ensure the security of the country, but each time there is civil unrest, we increase their burden and hamper ongoing investigations.”

A state of emergency has been in place since the bombings, which the militant Islamic State (IS) group claims to have helped, and security forces have been given sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

Police said a mob targeted shops in the northwestern town of Chilaw on Sunday in anger at a Facebook post by a shopkeeper. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but the violence spread to nearby towns where Muslim businesses were also attacked.

A motorcycle gang attacked shops in nearby Kuliyapitiya and four members were arrested, officials said.

However, dozens of people laid siege to the police station and forced their release. Despite a night curfew, a mosque was vandalised, local residents said.

Mosque attack

“Don’t laugh more, one day u will cry,” was posted on Facebook by a Muslim shopkeeper, and local Christians took it to be a warning of an impending attack.

Mobs smashed the man’s shop and vandalised a nearby mosque prompting security forces to fire in the air to disperse the crowd. A curfew was imposed from Sunday afternoon until dawn Monday.

There have already been clashes between Christians and Muslims in Negombo, the town north of Colombo that was targeted by the suicide attackers.

The main body of Islamic clerics, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), said there was increased suspicion of Muslims after the Easter Sunday attacks.

“We call upon the members of the Muslim communities to be more patient and guard your actions and avoid unnecessary postings or hosting on social media,” the ACJU said.

Internet service providers said they have been instructed by the telecommunications regulator to block access to Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram.

The latest unrest came as Catholic churches resumed public Sunday masses for the first time since the bombings. Worshippers were searched before being allowed into churches that were guarded by armed police and troops. There were no reports of disruption to services, however.

Schools reopen

Dozens of people have been detained since the Easter Sunday attacks, and amid the heightened security, police have banned parking near schools and students are allowed in after checking for explosives.

Public schools completed their reopening from extended Easter holidays after the attacks, but attendance was extremely low, according to education authorities.

Private Catholic schools were to open on Tuesday, but many were planning to postpone the reopening until next week, parent groups said.

Muslims make up around 10 per cent of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka’s 21 million population and Christians about 7.6pc.

The Hindu – Sri Lanka Easter blasts: Suspected mastermind Zahran Hashim spent time in south India, says top military source

Investigators identified Zahran Hashim as the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath, which they said executed the highly coordinated blasts.

Meera Srinivasan & Suhasini Haidar

Colombo – Sri Lanka / New Delhi – India, 27 April 2019. Zahran Hashim, believed to have masterminded the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, spent “substantial” time in “South India,” a top Sri Lankan military source said on Friday.

Investigators identified Hashim as the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath, which they said executed the highly coordinated blasts on Sunday. Over 250 people, including 45 children and 40 foreign nationals, were killed in the deadly explosions.

Two days later, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks and subsequently released an image of eight suspected bombers. The man seen standing at the centre is believed to be Hashim. The other jihadists had covered their faces with a scarf.

Sri Lankan investigators, however, have identified nine suicide bombers, including a woman. “We are looking into the IS angle. We also suspect that some of those radical youth were indoctrinated and trained in India, possibly Tamil Nadu,” the senior official said, on condition of anonymity.

Indian officials would not comment that Hashim travelled to India but pointed to evidence of virtual links he maintained with youth believed to be of Indian origin. More than 100 followers of Hashim’s Facebook page are being investigated, said an official, who asked not to be named.

The first hints of Hashim’s doctrinal videos, to likely radicalise youth, emerged when Indian authorities interrogated seven members of a group whose leader, officials found, was a follower of Hashim.

The men were IS sympathisers and arrested in September 2018 in Coimbatore, on suspicion that they were plotting the assassination of certain political and religious leaders in India, the official said.

‘Hashim, a Shangri-La bomber’

Sri Lankan authorities, who have so far not named any of the nine suicide bombers or suspects officially, on Friday confirmed Hashim was one of the two suicide bombers who carried out the explosions at hotel Shangri-La, on Colombo’s sea-facing Galle Road.

He led the radical Islamist group in Kattankudy, in Batticaloa district of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, and was known for espousing extremist religious ideas, often to the discomfort of many within the community.

Earlier this week, locals told The Hindu that Zahran had left the town two years ago after a fierce disagreement with the Moulavi (religious scholar) on the practice of Islam. He was absconding since then, community leaders said.

Heightened searches

Following Sunday’s brutal attacks, inarguably the biggest atrocity the island has seen in its post-civil war decade, police and the armed forces have arrested at least 75 persons for their alleged role in the bombings.

A list of 139 youth has been drawn up and security forces are desperate to eliminate any persistent threat, official sources said. Police on Thursday released photographs of a few suspects, including one wrong photograph for which they later regretted, and sought the help of the public to nab them.

President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday vowed to “meet the challenge and defeat terrorism” in the country. Investigations into war-time rights abuse allegations had weakened the country’s security apparatus and made it vulnerable to terror attacks, he said, apparently referring to military officials facing trial for alleged abduction and murder.

Speaking to local editors and Colombo-based foreign journalists, Mr. Sirisena said a major search operation, including a door-to-door check, was underway. Acknowledging a “serious lapse” in intelligence sharing, despite “a friendly country” providing a “highly descriptive warning” on April 4.

He squarely blamed the Defence Secretary and the Inspector General of Police for it. Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday, although he told Reuters “there had been no failure on his part”.

President Sirisena further said that the planned attack could have been a response to his campaign against illicit drugs. “There is a nexus between international terrorism and international drug trade,” he said.

The Hindustan Times – Sri Lanka imposes emergency, says international network involved in attacks

Police said 87 bomb detonators were found at the city’s main bus station, while an explosive went off near a church where scores were killed on Sunday when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it.

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 22 April 2019. Sri Lanka said on Monday it was invoking emergency powers in the aftermath of devastating bomb attacks on hotels and churches, blamed on militants with foreign links, in which 290 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded.

The emergency law, which gives police and the military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders, will go into effect at midnight on Monday, the president’s office said.

Colombo, the seaside capital of the Indian Ocean island, was jittery on Monday. Police said 87 bomb detonators were found at the city’s main bus station, while an explosive went off near a church where scores were killed on Sunday when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it.

A night curfew will go into effect at 8 pm, the government announced.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack but suspicion was focusing on Islamist militants in the Buddhist-majority country.

Investigators said seven suicide bombers took part in the attacks while a government spokesman said an international network was involved.

Police had received a tip-off of a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group some 10 days ago, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The intelligence report, dated April 11 and seen by Reuters, said a foreign intelligence agency had warned authorities of possible attacks on churches by the leader of the group, the National Thawheed Jama’ut. It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken on the tip-off.

Police said 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan, but they gave no more details.

International anti-terrorism experts said even if a local group had carried out the attacks, it was likely that al Qaeda or Islamic State were involved, given the level of sophistication.

Two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the luxury Shangri-La Hotel on Colombo’s seafront, said Ariyananda Welianga, a senior official at the government’s forensic division. The others targeted three churches and two other hotels.

A fourth hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital Colombo were also hit, but it was not immediately clear how those attacks were carried out.

“Still the investigations are going on,” Welianga said.

Most of the attacks came during Easter services and when hotel guests were sitting down for breakfast buffets.

“Guests who had come for breakfast were lying on the floor, blood all over,” an employee at Kingsbury Hotel told Reuters.

Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said an international network was involved, but did not elaborate.

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne said. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

The president, Maithripala Sirisena, said in a statement the government would seek foreign assistance to track the overseas links.

Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists, most of them Hindu, but violence had largely ended since the government victory in the civil war, 10 years ago.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

Foreign victims

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans although government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including British, USA, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

Denmark’s richest man Anders Holch Povlsen and his wife lost three of their four children in the attacks, a spokesman for his fashion firm said.

A British mother and son at breakfast at the Shangri-La, British media reported, while five Indian political workers were killed at the same hotel, relatives told Indian media.

The hotel said several guests and three employees were killed.

The USA State Department said in a travel advisory “terrorist groups” were plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka and targets could include tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship and airports.

There were fears the attacks could spark communal violence, with police reporting late on Sunday there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.

Bomb found near airport [bold

Traffic was uncharacteristically thin in normally bustling Colombo after an island-wide curfew was lifted earlier Monday.

Soldiers with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Centre in the business district, a Reuters witness said.

An Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia’s 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of “absolute carnage”.

He said he and a travel partner were having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.

“There were people screaming and dead bodies all around,” he said. “Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don’t know if they were dead or not, just crazy.”

There were similar scenes of carnage at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered. Pictures showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.

Dozens were killed in a blast at the Gothic-style St Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected it was a suicide attack.

Questions over why the intelligence report warning was not acted upon could feed into a feud between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the president.

Sirisena fired the premier last year and installed opposition strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his stead. Weeks later, he was forced to re-instate Wickremesinghe because of pressure from the Supreme Court but their relationship is still fraught as a presidential election nears.

Dawn – Death toll from Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka rises to 207; 450 injured

The death toll from a devastating series of eight bomb blasts that ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday has risen to 207, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said. At least 450 people were injured in the attacks.

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 21 April 2019. A manager at the Cinnamon Grand, near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, said a suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel’s restaurant.

“He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast,” he told AFP.

Another suicide bomber killed three police officers as they raided a house in a northern suburb of the city.

Gunasekera said the police were investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.

The government said eight people had been arrested and investigators would look into whether the attackers had “overseas links.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks, the worst act of violence since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war a decade ago, as “cowardly”, and said the government was working to “contain the situation”.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009 during which bomb blasts in the capital were common.

Christian groups say they have faced increasing intimidation from some extremist Buddhist monks in recent years. And last year, there were clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims.

At a glance:

  • Four hotels ─ Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Tropical Inn ─ targeted in Colombo
  • One church each targeted in Colombo (St Anthony’s Shrine), Negombo (St Sebastian’s Church) and Batticaloa
    (Zeon Church)
  • At least 47 killed in Colombo blasts: police
  • At least 25 killed in Batticaloa blast: police
  • At least 67 killed in Negombo blast: police
  • 35 foreigners, including Dutch, US and UK citizens, dead: police
  • At least 450 injured
  • Curfew, ‘temporary’ social media ban imposed

Three churches, one each in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, and three Colombo hotels were targeted in the initial series of blasts. Another hotel and an unspecified location in Colombo were struck by two more blasts two hours later.

The death toll included worshippers and hotel guests. The injured flooded into local hospitals, where officials reported hundreds of wounded were being admitted.

Hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens are among the dead, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man also died, the country’s LUSA news agency reported. Four Pakistanis were among the injured, according to the Foreign Ministry.

After the eighth explosion, the government declared a curfew with immediate effect and said it would last “until further notice”.

A social media ban was also imposed across the country. Government officials said major social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have been blocked to prevent misinformation and rumours.

The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear, but an official speaking on condition of anonymity said police suspects the initial blasts at the churches in Colombo and Batticaloa were carried out by suicide bombers.

Trail of terror

The first explosions were reported at St Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in the town of Batticalao, in the east of the country. Police immediately sealed off the attack sites. Sri Lankan security officials are investigating the attacks.

A person identified as Alex Agieleson who was near St Anthony’s at the time said that nearby buildings shook with the impact of the blast, and that he saw a number of injured people being carried away in ambulances.

An AFP photographer at the scene at St Anthony’s saw bodies lying on the floor, some draped with scarves and clothes.

Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor along with pools of blood.

St Sebastian’s appealed for help on its Facebook page. The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at the church, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, TV footage showed.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in the capital. The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.

A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant. From outside the police cordon, several bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast. The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Hours after the first series of blasts, a seventh blast struck at a hotel in Colombo’s Dehiwala area and killed two people, police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said.

“There was an explosion in a hotel in Dehiwala near the zoo,” a police official told Reuters adding that there were no further details available. An eyewitness on local TV said he saw some body parts including a severed head lying on the ground near the hotel. Zoo officials declared Dehiwala zoo closed after the blast.

Shortly after, an eighth blast hit the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of Colombo, police said, without providing additional details on what was targeted.

Police chief warned of threat 10 days ago

According to a document accessed by AFP, the Sri Lankan police chief had warned of possible suicide attacks targeting “prominent churches” in a nationwide alert 10 days ago.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

Sri Lanka PM calls emergency meeting

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks and called an emergency security council meeting, sources told Reuters.

“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” Wickremesinghe said in a Tweet. “Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, tweeted: “Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway.”

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s Shrine, where he described “horrible scenes”.

“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners”.

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.

President Maithripala Sirisena, in an address following the attacks, said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, writing on his verified Twitter account, said the attacks had killed “many innocent people” and appeared to be a “well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.”

The Pakistani Foreign Office retweeted contact information for the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo for Pakistani nationals in Sri Lanka.

Embassies in Colombo warned their citizens to shelter in place, and Sri Lankan Airlines told customers to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of flights because of ramped-up security in the wake of the attacks.

Sri Lankan Christians targeted by discrimination, violence

Only a small fraction of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organisations.

This year, the NCEASL recorded 26 such incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service, with the last one reported on March 25.

Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22 million, 70pc are Buddhist, 12.6pc Hindu, 9.7pc Muslim, and 7.6pc Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.

In its 2018 report on Sri Lanka’s human rights, the US State Department noted that some Christian groups and churches reported they had been pressured to end worship activities after authorities classified them as “unauthorised gatherings”.

The Catholic Church in the Holy Land voiced support for Sri Lanka’s Christians and condemned the attacks. A statement issued in Jerusalem said the blasts were particularly sad as they “came while Christians celebrate Easter.”

“We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation,” the statement said.

“We also express our solidarity with Sri Lanka and all its inhabitants in their various religious and ethnic backgrounds.”