AS SO many absurd and conflicting stories and claims by experts, laymen, victims and purported perpetrators, the September 11, 2001 incident gave birth to so many conspiracy theories, similarly, this Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka have also brought us to the threshold of multiple claims and theories about who did them and why. Interestingly, all of them sound pathetically subjective bundles of lies and half-truths. Moments after the horrid massacre of more 253 people (the new official figure, down from an earlier 359), most analysts and media outlets, especially western, Indian, and Israeli ones, started blaming some unknown, little known, and well-known Muslim or Islamist terror outfits for the attacks.
The so-called ISIS claim, which came more than 48 hours after the attacks that they had been behind them, further embellished their arguments by taking the whole world to only one scenario, ie Muslims, inspired by Islam, were the perpetrators of these horrific terror attacks. However, those who understand Islamist terrorism — most importantly, those who are honest and objective — know it quite well that it is too early to fathom the mystery behind the attacks. The so-called or purported ISIS claim does not fetch anything beyond a ‘so-what-moment’ for them as it raises more questions rather than answering many about the whole thing.
It is disappointing but not surprising that countries and individuals took no time in pinpointing who had done these suicide bombings in churches and hotels. Toronto University professor Randy Boyagoda was one of the first to do so in the most unprofessional way. His New York Times op-ed (‘The Tragic Familiarity of the Sri Lankan Bombings’, April 21, 2019) singled out some unknown Muslims as the perpetrators. Although not Islamist but Tamil LTTE bombings had been the most ‘familiar’ things in the realm of terrorism in Sri Lanka, the article seems quite subjective, both from its title and content.
Soon afterwards, the Sri Lankan defence minister told his nation’s parliament that the attacks ‘were revenge for last month’s killings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand’, which the New Zealand prime minister has rejected as baseless. Another unsubstantiated claim!
He also put the blame on Sri Lanka’s National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a newly created tiny Islamist outfit in the country. The minister’s balderdash seems to be his fig leaf to hide his government’s failure to prevent the attacks. Some of his compatriots imputed the attacks to the Jamiyathu Millahathu Ibrahim, another obscure Islamist outfit in the country. Now, if these tiny Islamist outfits are capable of orchestrating the attacks — so far as the largest in magnitude in the history of terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka — is the question. One wonders that the mysterious, decimated ISIS is still powerful enough to terrorise a distant island nation from its purported base in the Middle East.
The ISIS has never been an independent terror outfit. As US General (ret) Wesley Clark has asserted publicly that some very close US allies are behind the ISIS, hinting at Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. As al-Qaeda is virtually a Frankenstein’s monster of the west, as Hamas is that of Israel, the ISIS is a different ballgame. It is a western false flag, a deceptive covert operation to bleed ‘non-compliant’ countries in the Middle East such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Since its decimation after the defeat of the US-sponsored forces in Syria and Iraq, it has a new sponsor in South Asia, which is likely to have masterminded and executed the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, not with any religious but totally secular geopolitical motives. Thus, the so-called ISIS affirmation, which came two days after the attack, was not totally unexpected. The masterminds of the attacks needed an alibi and they produced this ‘affirmation’, albeit in somewhat unconvincing manner.
While laymen and motivated/biased governments and media across the world have welcomed the so-called affirmation, experts who know the ISIS know what has happened to the outfit and its genuinely committed fighters — who just dissipated and died in large numbers — after the collapse of the Islamic State. However, certain Indian government agencies — with or without the knowledge of prime minister Modi — have been playing a duplicitous role as a proxy for the ISIS, at least since 2017. Prominent Indian politician Digvijaya Singh, a former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and general secretary of the Congress Party tweeted this in 2017: ‘Telangana Police has set up a bogus ISIS site which is radicalising Muslim youths and encouraging them to become ISIS modules’ (India Today, May 4, 2017). And, circumstantial evidence suggests that Singh was possibly not lying. As media reports reveal that India was the second big source for ISIS arms and ammunition, after Turkey during the heydays of the terrorist group, some recent reports say that the explosives used in the recent attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka came from India.
One may, however, argue that since the ISIS in its web page produced pictures of the nine suicide bombers who had died in the attacks, we do not need to question the terror outfit’s involvement in the whole thing. So far, so good! Then again, we know who runs the ‘ISIS webpage’. Countries and individuals sometimes hire professional killers from terrorist organisations. As the Afghan Taliban have been doing it since long, letting drug lords hire their gunmen for protection, so did the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, at least on one occasion, during the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. Fugitive Indian drug lord Dawood Ibrahim hired 10 LeT gunmen to kill his own rivals in Mumbai. While two of them selectively killed only Dawood Ibrahim’s rivals, others did the indiscriminate killing, believing they were doing their ‘jihad’.
Renowned international affairs and security analyst Adam Garrie has convincingly debunked the theory that some obscure Islamist group like NTJ was behind the Sri Lanka attacks. Without resorting to innuendoes, he has singled out India’s hegemonic and intrusive foreign policy in countries like Sri Lanka. He believes that Sri Lanka’s joining the Chinese Belt Road Initiative and the growing Chinese influence in the country were the catalysts behind the attacks. He argues:
‘Therefore, due to NTJ’s foreign links, it is highly likely that a foreign entity, most likely a foreign state or state intelligence agency was behind the attacks and that the men on the ground who have been captured are merely pawns in a much larger and even more dangerous game. When it comes to seeking to pin-point the country with a clear motive for orchestrating the attacks, India is the one that springs immediately to mind, not least because NTJ reportedly trains where the LTTE once did. India has a long history of seeking to manipulate the power balance in Sri Lanka in order to turn the country into something of an Indian protectorate’ (‘Sri Lankan Authorities May Have Fallen Into a Trap Set by a Foreign Power’, Eurasia.com, April 22, 2019).
Countercurrents editor Binu Mathew has raised some interesting questions about the anomalies in Sri Lankan, western and Indian government and media reports in regards to the attacks, such as: why the intelligence warning which came on April 4 was ignored and even withheld, according to Sri Lankan minister Lakshman Kiriella; it was India which gave the intelligence warning, as to how it got this information ahead of others; as to how India knew the names of the suicide bombers 10 days ahead of the attacks; why little-known group National Thowheeth Jama’ath was named in the intelligence report; why ISIS which was not heard of in Sri Lanka claimed the responsibility after three days of the terrorist attacks; how ISIS which was decimated in the Middle East managed to carry out such a massive coordinated attacks in Sri Lanka where it did not have any strategic interest; why the persecuted Muslim minority in Sri Lanka carried out a terrorist attack on another minority group; and who would benefit from the attacks (‘10 Questions on Sri Lanka Easter Day Bombings?’ Countercurrents, April 24, 2019).
To conclude, the so-called ISIS affirmation does not prove that the Sri Lanka attacks were an Islamist backlash to the agents of ‘western crusaders’ in tiny Sri Lanka. They simply reflect Indian hegemonic designs in the neighbourhood with tacit support from the west and its allies across the Asia-Pacific region. This false flag operation in Sri Lanka is least likely to be the last ‘ISIS attack’ in the country. And, countries in the region also enthused over the BRI, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Iran, should brace themselves for similar attacks. Debunking the myth of ISIS as a threat to them is a step toward that direction.
Dr Taj Hashmi is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Austin Peay State University, in Tennessee, US. He is an author, historian, and security analyst. He regularly writes on Islam, terrorism, the Middle East, and South Asian history, politics and current affairs. His publications include Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (translated into several languages). This article is a sequel to Taj Hashmi’s ‘Terror Attacks in Sri Lanka: blaming Muslims again” (New Age, April 24, 2019).
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