ISIS-Inspired Sri Lankans in India: A Nexus of Radicalization and Conspiracy

The aftermath of the Easter Massacre saw a proliferation of conspiracy theories, undermining the credibility of intelligence agencies and creating a climate of distrust and misinformation.

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Four Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists were nabbed at Ahmedabad airport, India [Photos: Indian media]

Editorial

The recent arrests of four Sri Lankan nationals at Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport highlight a critical and alarming issue: the persistent and evolving threat of terrorism in India. These individuals, allegedly linked to the banned Sri Lankan militant group National Thowheeth Jamath (NJT), were reportedly instructed by a Pakistani handler to collect weapons and conduct terrorist activities in India. This incident highlights the need for unstoppable vigilance and robust counter-terrorism measures.

The suspects’ confession to planning terrorist activities in India, bolstered by substantial financial backing, is a stark reminder of the ongoing efforts by extremist groups to destabilise the region. Their apprehension under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the Arms Act is evidence of India’s stringent legal framework designed to counter such threats. However, the situation calls for more than just legal action; it demands a comprehensive strategy involving intelligence, security, and international cooperation.

Following these arrests, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has ramped up security at the Ahmedabad International Airport, which is bustling with activity due to the arrival of Indian Premier League teams ahead of the 2024 play-offs. This proactive measure is crucial, especially given the recent bomb threat received by the airport, which fortunately turned out to be a hoax. Yet, it serves as a grim reminder of the constant vigilance required to protect public spaces from terrorist threats.

The broader context of these arrests is equally concerning. Just days before, Assam Police detained Haris Farooqi, the alleged head of ISIS in India, highlighting the relentless efforts of terrorist networks to infiltrate and operate within the country. The detailed operation by the Special Task Force (STF) in Assam to apprehend Farooqi and his associate underlines the importance of credible intelligence and swift action in thwarting potential attacks. These individuals, deeply indoctrinated and motivated by extremist ideologies, aimed to further ISIS’s agenda through recruitment, terror funding, and planned attacks across India.

The convergence of these events is a clear indication that terrorist threats are not isolated incidents but part of a larger, coordinated effort by extremist groups to disrupt peace and security. The arrests of the four Sri Lankans, who were allegedly in communication with ISIS leaders and equipped with weapons arranged by their Pakistani handler, reflect a sophisticated and dangerous network. Their radicalisation to the extent of considering suicide bombings highlights the severity of the threat. Three of them hailed from Colombo suburbs: Maligawaththa, Orugodawatta, and Colombo 12, while another came from Negombo. Four of them were involved in petty crimes initially, and preliminary investigations suggest that they were radicalised by their Pakistani handler in a very short period of time. This highlights how easily such vicious ideologies can infiltrate the human mind. Understanding this phenomenon is a tremendous task and a social responsibility that requires national consciousness.

This situation is reminiscent of past failures to adequately address similar threats, such as the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. Poor investigations and underestimation of the threat allowed the attackers to execute their plans, resulting in the tragic loss of nearly 270 lives. The aftermath saw a proliferation of conspiracy theories, undermining the credibility of intelligence agencies and creating a climate of distrust and misinformation. Even the country’s head of intelligence, who diligently performed his duties amidst widespread negligence by other institutions, found himself targeted by groups claiming to advocate justice. These groups, consisting of a few religious leaders, NGOs, and self-proclaimed activists, manipulated societal sentiments to further their agenda.

To prevent such scenarios, it is imperative that intelligence and security agencies are not only well-equipped but also supported and trusted by the public and government. Undermining these institutions with baseless conspiracy theories only serves to weaken our collective defence against terrorism. The recent arrests in Ahmedabad should serve as a wake-up call to reinforce our commitment to combating radicalisation and terrorism with definite resolve.

As mentioned above, the incident in Ahmedabad is alarmingly similar to the events leading up to the tragic Easter attacks in Sri Lanka in 2019, orchestrated by Zahran Hashim and his cohorts. Before the devastating attacks that killed nearly 270 innocents, Zahran’s brother, Rilwan, conducted a dry run that went largely unnoticed by authorities. Despite a significant lead from an informant named Thasleem, which resulted in the recovery of over a hundred kilograms of explosives, investigative lapses prevented the authorities from fully understanding and addressing the impending threat. This failure in thorough investigation cleared the way for the suicide bombers to execute their deadly plans.

The aftermath of the Easter attacks saw a proliferation of conspiracy theories that infiltrated all levels of society. The Church became ensnared in these theories, and many true culprits managed to paint themselves as innocent victims, claiming harassment by security forces. A notable case involved a Colombo-based lawyer, who, according to statements from Zahran’s wife, Hadiya, had visited the land in Puttalama with Zahran. When arrested, he claimed his phones were broken and discarded, but investigators later recovered them from a third party who had purchased the used devices cheaply. The lawyer’s narrative of innocence was bolstered by conspiracy theories, which served as a smokescreen to obscure the truth.

This manipulation and undermining of investigative agencies led to significant setbacks. Intelligence agencies, instead of being supported, were targeted, humiliated, and their credibility questioned. Some individuals even sought asylum, exploiting the situation for personal gain. For instance, an Army officer, after working at the Sri Lankan Embassy in France, applied for asylum along with his wife when his extension request was denied. Instead of returning to Sri Lanka, he claimed to possess critical knowledge about the Easter attacks, alleging his life was in danger. Ironically, his wife runs a YouTube channel with him, showcasing their life in France, demonstrating how opportunistic individuals can manipulate serious situations for personal benefit.

This pattern of events highlights the broader issue of how conspiracy theories and misinformation can severely damage the credibility and effectiveness of intelligence and security agencies. The spread of such narratives not only undermines public trust but also hampers genuine efforts to combat terrorism. In the face of such challenges, it is crucial to remain vigilant and support our intelligence community.

The Ahmedabad arrests once again bring to light the grave dangers of radicalisation and the impact of extremist ideologies. Instead of falling prey to misinformation and conspiracy theories, society must unite in understanding and supporting the efforts of our security forces. These incidents accentuate the need for a collective commitment to combating terrorism, reinforcing our security measures, and fostering a culture of trust and resilience. Only through a concerted and informed approach can we hope to mitigate the threats posed by radicalisation and safeguard our communities from the scourge of terrorism.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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