An eighth explosion has been confirmed in Sri Lanka, where a series of coordinated bomb attacks on churches and hotels has claimed the lives of at least 140 people. https://t.co/YvLb22UMcj pic.twitter.com/cmyIxiMK8g
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) April 21, 2019
Ten days ago, Sri Lanka’s police chief issued a nationwide alert that suicide bombers were planning to hit “prominent churches.”
“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.
NTJ is an extremist Islamist group in Sri Lanka that broke onto the scene last year in connection with vandalizing of Buddhist statues.
Sri Lanka, an island country off the southeastern tip of India in the Laccadive Sea, is home to 21.4 million people, the majority (70 percent) of whom are Buddhist. Muslims comprise 9.7% of the population and Hindus 12.6%.
There are 1.5 million Christians in the country, mainly Roman Catholic.
The country has been relatively quiet since the terror group the Tamil Tigers was routed in 2009 in a brutal civil conflict.
Speaking to the BBC, Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith said, “It’s a very difficult and a very sad situation for all of us because we never expected such a thing to happen and especially on Easter Sunday.”
Yet, counter-terrorism expert Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, who visited the country in 2005, paints a different picture. Kobrin was invited to Sri Lanka to lecture on Islamist suicide bombings.
During a high-security tour of Tamil territory, Kobrin also passed through predominantly Muslim towns, where she noticed a significant number of residents already dressing in garb and in a style known to be worn by extremists.
“I asked Christians who were with us if they saw this as a problem,” Kobrin related to Clarion. “They said this didn’t represent a problem, but I was skeptical. Due to the unique history of terrorism in Sri Lanka with the Tamil Tigers, it was apparent to me during my tour of the country that given the extremist nature of parts of the Muslim population, that there would be problems coming out of the community in the future. It reminded me of the situation in Minnesota with the Somali population, where I worked.
“It only takes a small percent to ruin everything. That is why it is always important that moderate Muslims speak up.”