New Delhi (Sputnik) — Sri Lanka's Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Monday said that the series of deadly explosions that took place across the country was organised by the local group National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) and that the attacks had been carried out with help of a vast international network.
"We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country", the minister said. "There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded", he added.
The NTJ has had no history of carrying out attacks of this type and scale in the past. Mystery continues to surround the serial bomb blasts that rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, as no organisation so far has claimed responsibility for the attack.
"While no organisation has stepped forward to take responsibility, there is speculation that this might be the handiwork of either Tamil fringe groups or the Islamic State (Daesh)", writes security analyst Abhijit Singh. Singh is the head of the Maritime Policy Initiative at the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation.
"There was a complacency developing in Sri Lanka that nothing would happen. The Sri Lankans cannot be blamed as the nation had been experiencing relative peace since the elimination of the LTTE in 2009. That a terror attack has taken place now in the country is sad, it should not have happened, but we must not forget that it has taken place during a controlled and important phase of peace. The blasts suggest that there was an element of laxity in Sri Lanka after a prolonged period of peace. I do believe that the warning would have been given by the Indian authorities to their counterparts in Sri Lanka", Major General (Retired) Dhruv C. Katoch, director of the India Foundation, a strategic and security think-tank based in New Delhi, told Sputnik.
When asked to comment on reports about the involvement of a local jihadist organisation called the National Thowheed Jamaath in the blasts, Major General Katoch told Sputnik, "This is a strong possibility, but then I would like to qualify by saying that this was a local terrorist module. Now, I have been through the speeches made by some of the members of this Jamaath. I am surprised by the fact that the level of hate that was being spewed by these people was not taken cognisance of by the authorities in Sri Lanka. Here are people spewing hatred against Sri Lanka and no action was being taken. The second point I want to make is that it is a known fact that a large number of people from Sri Lanka went and joined the Islamic State. I think they (Sri Lanka) have been a bit lax here in not keeping a record of these people; such as where are they, did they return, were they killed or not, etc.".
"The fact that these attacks on Sunday took place across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka with such precision would suggest a major intelligence failure and would most definitely not have taken place without outside support. The local module may have executed this task, but the brain behind it was from outside Sri Lanka. There is every possibility of the link being in the Maldives as well, as a lot of people from the Maldives have infiltrated into Sri Lanka in the recent past. The target was not so much the Sri Lankans. It was directed at Christians. The messaging was to the entire world. This is a case of direct messaging from the Islamic fundamentalists to the West; to the Christians, in various parts of the globe", Major General (Retired) Dhruv C. Katoch added while speaking to Sputnik.
Asked to comment on media reports quoting Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe as saying that the terror strikes were an "inside job", Ferdinando clarified, "I really don't know. If the prime minister is saying this, then he could be saying it on the basis of inputs provided to him by various agencies. I am not absolutely sure, but my guess is that there could have been some outside help for this local operation".
On the possible origins of the so-called National Thowheed Jamaath, Ferdinando said, "The group came to light early this year possibly in January".
"The concerned Sri Lankan authorities had the information and could have taken adequate precautions", he added.
The Sri Lankan government has confirmed the arrest of 24 persons and the involvement of the jihadist organisation National Thowheed Jamaath in Sunday's attacks on three Roman Catholic churches: St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo and Batticaloa's Zion Church. In Colombo, three major hotels — the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury — were also struck. Two other hotels, one in Colombo and another in Batticaloa, suffered extensive damage in the terror attack.
The NTJ is a small radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka which has no history of carrying out mass fatal attacks. It came to prominence last year when it was linked to vandalism and desecration of Buddhist statues, a report in the Daily Mirror said. According to media reports, authorities are not yet clear if National Thowheed Jamaath is the same as another Muslim organisation Sri Lanka, Thowheed Jamaath, which preaches Wahabi Islam and denounces Sufism, which is practiced by most Sri Lankan Muslims. This outfit has close links with the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
*Daesh is a terror group banned in Russia