Lessons from terrorist acts
The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka and their aftermath offer lessons not only to the Buddhist-majority country but also its neighbors in Asia and other nations of the world. On Tuesday the Islamic State claimed the bombings as the work of its “fighters,” as though to suggest that the terror group is far from a spent force despite the loss of territory it once held in Iraq and Syria. But its claim remains unproven.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has since addressed his constituents to express regret over “lapses on the part of defense officials,” and to announce changes in his country’s security structure.
Tuesday was a national day of mourning for Sri Lanka, which only 10 years ago ended a brutal civil war with Tamil separatists whose modus operandi mostly included suicide attacks.
The violence that was timed to occur during one of Christendom’s most important days is now considered among the deadliest terror attacks in modern history. At this writing, the death toll in the coordinated bomb attacks—on three churches and three luxury hotels within 20 minutes on Sunday morning, and on a guest house and a suburban house in the afternoon—has climbed to 359, at least 45 of them children; some 500 persons were wounded. The Sri Lankan government has attributed the attacks to nine suicide bombers belonging to a local group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), with help from another local group and international militants. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said “foreign involvement” was likely.
The NTJ was in the news in December 2018 for having defaced four statues of the Buddha. That it was not previously known to attack churches is a point to ponder.
Ordinary and prominent people lost their lives in the attacks, mostly Sri Lankans and 38 foreigners. Among them, according to The New York Times, were: auto rickshaw driver K. Pirathap, his wife and their two daughters who were attending Mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine; three of four children of the Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen; Sri Lankan mother Mary Otricia Johnson, who had just heard Mass and died on the way to hospital; celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne and her daughter Nisanga who were enjoying Easter breakfast with family at the Shangri-La Hotel; and Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, a fifth grader at Sidwell Friends School in the United States from which he was on leave while vacationing in Sri Lanka.
From the welter of reports, one detail leaps out: More than a week before the attacks, a foreign intelligence agency warned security officials of a possible threat to churches. It is not known why no action was taken on the “detailed warning” reported to have come from India.
The attacks, for which some 60 suspects have been rounded up, reflect the fragile state of world peace and the urgency of nations coming together to find ways—apart from the soft and hard approaches—to go after perpetrators of murderous acts including sectarian violence, crush terrorism, and protect one another from its evils.
There’s much to be mined from the Sri Lanka bombings as well as last month’s attack on a mosque in New Zealand, and how the respective authorities in the two nations behaved in the aftermath.
Out here, the strange case of the bombings in Jolo, Sulu, needs a revisit. Only on Jan. 27, nearly a week after Muslim Filipinos voted to approve the Bangsamoro Organic Law that provides for a bigger autonomous region in Mindanao, a bomb exploded during Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Another bomb went off in the parking lot shortly afterward as parishioners were fleeing and security forces were responding. At least 20 people were killed and nearly 100 others were injured.
Malacañang floated the idea of Indonesian suicide bombers. But residents and the general public were loath to buy it, wondering how the perps could enter a cathedral that had been tightly secured as early as August 2018. At one point, a frustrated Jolo Mayor Kherkar Tan called for an independent inquiry by human rights groups.
On Feb. 4, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was quoted as saying that foreigners, “either Malaysian or Indonesian,” had carried out the attacks. On Feb. 6, the Department of Justice announced the filing of murder and frustrated murder charges against five suspects affiliated with the bandit group Abu Sayyaf, who had supposedly surrendered to authorities earlier.
And thus was the case declared solved.
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