Extremism and Terrorism, biggest threat to humanity | Daily News
Defusing Foreign Interferences and Influences

Extremism and Terrorism, biggest threat to humanity

Easter Sunday terror attacks.
Easter Sunday terror attacks.

The incessant call for justice for the Easter Attack victims died with the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena continues to refuse to shoulder the full blame. The ‘brains’ behind the Attack remain elusive.

Last month, the Fort Magistrates Court acquitted MP Rishad Bathiudeen from the charges filed against him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in relation to the Easter Attacks case. MP Bathiudeen and his brother Riyaj Bathiudeen were arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on April 24, 2021 over the charges of aiding and abetting the Easter Sunday attackers. At the time of his acquittal, he and his brother were enlarged on bail.

Bathiudeen was arrested for giving priority to a particular company to purchase scrap metal and copper owned by the Ministry of Industries. At the time, he was the Industry and Commerce Minister. This company was owned by Ibrahim Ahamed - one of the Easter Attack bombers. The Court was further informed by the CID that the funds generated from the transaction were utilized for terrorism related activities.

While one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, this outcome deserves some form of explanation from an authoritative body. The charges by the CID are not inherent or intuitive but concrete.

The inference as to whether the then Minister knew he was supporting a terrorist act may be subjective. However, favoring a particular company implies a step outside the standard procedure, which could be identified. Likewise, the subsequent money trail can also be established with irrefutable facts. Yet, the former minister was found innocent from all these charges.

If this gap between the charge and outcome is not explained, there will always be question marks over the investigating skills of the CID and impartiality of the courts. Allowing these questions to float unabated leads to dangerous breeding grounds.

For instance, the call for foreign prosecutors and judges to preside over cases of war crimes against our military is contemptuous to our legal system. Such demands outrightly discredits the integrity of our courts. This underscores the need to explain, especially to the laypeople, the gap between the CID’s findings and the acquittal.

This is important as insinuations are whispered by vested interest bodies than openly discussed. This gradually builds layers of distrust against the systems. It is often a subtle process that often escapes the authorities’ attention, thereby preventing the arrest of unrest in a timely manner.

It is noteworthy that the true motive is often far removed from the stated objectives emanating from these manoeuvres. The call for foreign judges and prosecutors, for instance, is not in pursuit of justice. It is a spoke in a larger mechanism to subjugate our sovereignty.

The manner Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s disappointment over the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration was stoked by anti-nationalist forces is another case-in-point. That Government too foolishly made the task easier by failing to maintain proper communication channels with His Eminence.

Eventually, Cardinal Ranjith was pushed into the conclusion that President Gotabaya should be ousted by forces that never wanted him in power in the first place. He thus took the lead in the anti-Government protests funded by those who were on a different page than Cardinal and all those who seek justice for the Easter Attack. The call for justice thus got perverted into a political agenda.

While the true motive of the political agenda was achieved, justice for the Easter Attack victims is still pending. Cardinal Ranjith’s role too has since then morphed into a crusader against all sorts of social injustice committed or accused of the Government. This seems to be leaving His Eminence little time to fight for Easter Attack victims.

Is the Threat of Terrorism, Extremism Over?

On November 28, 2022, an Easter Attack suspect, Badurdeen Mohamed Harnas, aged 38, who was out on bail, was hacked to death in Mattakkuliya by two persons who arrived in a vehicle. This was brought to the Parliament’s attention by the Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who demanded answers from the Government.

A month later, the Central Counter Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency in India, National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested two IS members, Sheikh Hidayatullah and Sanofar Ali, over the blasts in Tamil Nadu Coimbatore, about 200 metres from a Police patrol near Kottai Eswaran temple on October 23, 2022. The residents were rudely woken up at dawn by the sound of the explosion, which occurred the day before Deepavali.

The chief suspect Jameesha Mubeen had been under the NIA’s eye since 2019 for terrorist related links. He was charred to death after the LPG cylinder inside a Maruti 800 he was driving exploded.

Hidayatullah had been propagating IS ideology since 2017. He was arrested in June 2019, but released on bail in 2020. Ali was allegedly planning to carry out terror attacks in India.

At the time of these arrests of Hidayatullah and Ali, two others were already in custody. Mohammed Azharuddin is from Ukkadam and the leader of Kerala, Tamil Nadu IS module. He has been directly linked with the Easter Attack. Umar Farooq is the leader of this group.

Since February 2022, they had been meeting in the interior of forested regions of Asanoor and Kadambur areas of Sathyamangalam forest, Erode district and had conspired to prepare for and execute terror acts, stated NIA.

They had maintained links with the Easter Attack mastermind Maulvi Zahran bin Hashim and were inspired by him to plan similar attacks as the Easter Attack in two South Indian states, NIA further revealed. Prior to the Easter Attack, Hidayatullah and Zaharan were in touch through a Facebook page “KhilafahGFX”, read the NIA’s charge sheet filed against Hidayatullah in 2019.

Another report from the NIA that appeared mid-December 2022 further attests the threat of terrorism that continues to hover over the region. Since 2021, NIA has reported at least four cases related to the conspiracy by several LTTE cadres based in India and Sri Lanka to revive LTTE by smuggling arms, ferrying drugs and transferring funds via hawala.

Nine Sri Lankans had been arrested from the special camp for Tamil refugees at Tiruchirapalli for their alleged involvement in smuggling of drugs and arms to revive the LTTE. The arrested are:

* C. Gunashekharan alias Guna, a resident of Colombo - key person in the alleged LTTE revival conspiracy and Sri Lankan drug mafia

* Pushparajah alias PookuttiKanna - in connection with activities pertaining to Sri Lankan drug mafia

* Mohammad Asmin

* Alahapperumaga Sunil Ghamini Fonseaa

* Stanly Kennady Fernando

* Ladiya Chandrasena

* Dhanukka Roshan

* Vella Suranka

* Thilipan.

Gunashekharan and Pushparajah were in association with Pakistani national Haji Salim - drug and arms supplier based in Pakistan, revealed NIA. According to a counter-terrorism official in Delhi, Salim “runs one of the biggest networks of smuggling drugs and arms from Pakistan to Sri Lanka”.

It is a matter of interest that this group is not mono-ethnic or religious, which is strange as the LTTE’s mission is to create an exclusive homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern Provinces. In fact, those from ethnic/religious groups traditionally identified as LTTE’s enemies are also part of this group’s makeup. The LTTE spent decades to ethnically cleanse the Sinhalese and Muslims through genocide and other forms of intimidation from these two provinces. Thus the presence of these non-Tamils leads to legitimate questions as to whether the effort to revive the LTTE is just a front for another devious plot.

The above incidents were reported in mainstream media. The contents of the ‘newsletter’ of the Islamic State–Khorasan Province also offers important indicators of the thinking of these terrorist elements. IS-Khorasan is an affiliate of the IS active in South and Central Asia.

It was initially thought that the group is active and influential in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. However, this group has clearly expanded its network and now encompasses Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India also as its domain.

In its ‘newsletter’, IS-Khorasan has ‘knighted’ the Easter Attack mastermind Zaharan. The timing of this recognition is interesting. It has been three years since the dastardly terrorist attack that killed nearly 300 and wounded twice the number. It was a series of bomb attacks in both the East and the West corners of the Island nation, which were executed with detailed planning and precision. It rocked the attention of the world that is largely desensitized to terror related atrocities. The reaction from the world at large was instantaneous.

Yet, it took four days for the IS ‘headquarters’ to acknowledge the Easter Attack and claim responsibility. Since then, it took a further three years for Zaharan to be ‘knighted’. Why now is just as important a question as understanding how the dynamics must change with this development.

Can the Conspiracy Theories Survive Zaharan’s Knighthood?

When the Attack was fresh, an idiotic theory precipitated from nowhere. It was alleged that the bombers misunderstood ‘virgins’ for ‘raisins’ as what was promised if one dies for religion. This absurd theory offered comic relief to a nation shellshocked by the atrocity. It was fun to imagine the bombers’ reaction when all they received were seven raisins instead of beautiful virgins as celestial compensation for their ultimate sacrifice.

However, when the last steps of the bombers are retraced, it can be clearly discerned that the bombers were on a serious mission and not driven by mere lust. They were clearly heartbroken to be leaving their families behind. They worried over the repercussions their families would face for their actions.

Therefore, this is not a mere misinterpretation of the Quran. We must accept that there is a concerted move to lead impressionable minds to extremism and exclusivity.

Key investigative arms as the FBI landed in Sri Lanka within 24 hours. It has been alleged that vital evidence has been removed from local authorities’ custody. This has led to its own assumptions that a foreign hand is behind the Attack. In fact, Cardinal Ranjith made a pronouncement to this effect as His Eminence appealed from all to refrain from violence or retributive action. His words calmed the Nation.

Soon after the Attack, Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave a public interview in the capacity of the former Defense Secretary, under whose leadership terrorism was eradicated. He pointed out the atrocity was the result of the failure across the system rather than the neglect of duty of just one or two individuals. He brought attention to the fact that despite repeated warnings, relevant officers were reluctant to act upon it.

Unfortunately, the contents of this interview was taken out of context. It was spun that he announced his intentions to contest at the forthcoming Presidential Elections. Over time, an entire new conspiracy theory was woven that the attack was engineered specifically to bring him to power. It was lost on many the absurdity of eight radicalized Muslim youth sacrificing their lives to bring to power a man who did not enjoy the Muslims’ confidence.

It did not take long for this conspiracy theory to cast its shadows on the Military Intelligence (MI) and accuse them of also playing a role. MI was already taking a bad rap on a number of killings and disappearances. This is again another ploy by vested interest groups to create mistrust in the system and each other. Even in instances where rational explanations existed, it was possible to chip the reputation of the MI through devious propaganda and repetition.

All these conspiracies have now been shot down with Zaharan’s ‘knighthood’. More importantly, the spate of recent events, seemingly unrelated and random, indicates that the threat of extremism and terrorism is far from over.

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