With the death toll now reaching over 300 from Islamist terror attacks, a lot of people are wondering how Sri Lankan intelligence missed the signs of an operation this large. Some of those people are in intelligence agencies in India and in Sri Lanka itself, and they’re not being too quiet about it either. Reuters reported this morning that India had sent Sri Lanka a series of warnings about terror attacks aimed at Christian churches — including a specific warning two hours before the first bomb exploded:
Sri Lankan intelligence officials were tipped off about an imminent attack by Islamist militants hours before a series of suicide bombings killed more than 300 people on Easter Sunday, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter said. …
Indian intelligence officers contacted their Sri Lankan counterparts two hours before the first attack to warn of a specific threat on churches, one Sri Lankan defense source and an Indian government source said.
Another Sri Lankan defense source said a warning came “hours before” the first strike.
One of the Sri Lankan sources said a warning was also sent by the Indians on Saturday night. The Indian government source said similar messages had been given to Sri Lankan intelligence agents on April 4 and April 20.
That’s more than two weeks of warnings before the holiest Christian holiday on the calendar. Even if all Sri Lanka got was the warning two hours before the first blast, that should have been enough to send police out to check the churches and the people entering into them. Instead, the bombings proceeded as apparently planned for hours and hours, only stopping late in the night when police discovered an IED at the airport and defused it.
That lack of response might call into question the results of Sri Lanka’s investigation, at least in terms of motive. Because if their suggestion this morning is accurate, then they should have taken these warnings even more seriously:
Sri Lanka on Tuesday described the devastating string of bombings on Easter that killed 321 people as a response to the attack on two mosques in New Zealand last month, even as the radical Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Three hotels and three churches were attacked by suicide bombers on Sunday in an operation warned about days earlier in an intelligence report that circulated within the Sri Lankan government.
“Investigations have revealed that the attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists in retaliation for the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand,” State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament. On March 15, a white supremacist killed 50 Muslims in two mosques.
Let’s put that together in a timeline. On March 15th, the heinous attack on the Christchurch mosques takes place, killing 50 Muslims. Within three weeks, India starts sending warnings that Islamist extremists plan a major operation against Christians and tourist spots to Sri Lanka. Why didn’t Sri Lanka’s intelligence services put the two together before yesterday?
Of course, to believe this theory is to believe that radical Islamist terrorists need a provocation to conduct a terror attack. It certainly might have fueled their fervor for war against the infidels, but it’s silly to think that this group or any other terror network would have forgone this opportunity regardless, unless we all missed a press release declaring a universal truce in radical jihad. It seems doubtful, too, that an operation on this scale could have been proposed, agreed, provisioned, and conducted all within five weeks — while Sri Lankan security forces remained blissfully unaware.
That may be why Sri Lanka is insisting that the NTJ had foreign assistance, and why they’re pointing out that ISIS has taken credit for the attack. It’s certainly possible, although some are questioning whether that’s accurate or just an exploitation of a propaganda opportunity:
The terrorist organization offered no evidence to support that assertion, which was initially announced in a statement in Arabic published by its Amaq news agency on Tuesday, saying the attackers were “among the fighters of the Islamic State,” according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, a company that tracks extremist groups.
ISIS later issued a longer, formal statement identifying the seven suicide bombers who detonated explosive-laden vests at the churches and hotels and a housing complex on Sunday.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged the claim during a press conference in the capital, Colombo.
“All that we knew earlier is that there were foreign links and that this could not have been done just locally,” Wickremesinghe said. “There has been training done and a coordination which we [have] not seen earlier.”
Earlier in its ascendancy, ISIS was careful not to claim direct connections to terror attacks in which it was not involved. Over the last couple of years, however, as their footprint shrunk and their fighting power diminished, ISIS appeared to seize on the propaganda value of connecting itself to every Islamist terror attack no matter the scale. Is it possible that ISIS conducted this attack? Sure, but it may not be the likeliest explanation — and its value in mitigating the questions about Sri Lanka’s lack of action in the face of repeated warnings lends some natural skepticism to the claim.
Those questions aren’t going away. In fact, they seem to be multiplying to the point where one could legitimately wonder whether Sri Lanka ever had much interest in protecting Christians from terrorism in the first place, at least until their bizarre failure put them under scrutiny.
Update: Heads will start to roll soon, it seems:
BREAKING: Sri Lanka president says intelligence report warning of attacks was not shared with him, expects to change heads of defense forces within 24 hours pic.twitter.com/0pXQ7hiUbA
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) April 23, 2019
Get ready for the inevitable counter-leaks alleging that the president had been informed ahead of the attacks. However, this does fit into yesterday’s argument about the feud between the president and prime minister being one of the main causes of inaction.