South Asia

Sri Lanka Failed to Act on Intelligence About Attack on 'Prominent Churches'

It appears that key security agencies were tipped off that a major attack was impending – at least ten days before the carnage of Easter Sunday.

New Delhi: Even as the world continues to process the tragedy and destruction of the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka yesterday (April 21), experts are questioning how such a large-scale act of violence could occur in a still highly securitised country.

Despite Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena articulating his shock and surprise at the ‘totally unexpected incidents’, it now appears that key security agencies were tipped off that a major attack was impending – at least ten days before the carnage of Easter Sunday.

Late on Sunday night, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe confirmed reports that security forces had been ‘aware of information’ and that now the government ‘must look into why adequate precautions were not taken’ in light of this information. PM Wickremesinghe went on to say that ministers were never informed of this intelligence.

AFP reported that it has seen documents showing that police issued an intelligence alert to top officers more than two weeks before the attack, on April 4. This report came with the specific warning that suicide bombers planned to target “prominent churches.”

Yesterday, in a statement Sri Lankan defence minister Wijewardene said suicide bombers were indeed responsible for the majority of the bombings. This theory has been backed by the government’s forensic crime analysis team.

“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,” the alert said, according to AFP.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statue, but the outfit is otherwise little known. Twenty four people have now been arrested, and in the process of these police actions, further explosions have taken place.

As the dust settles on Colombo – after eight explosions, the defusing of another pipe bomb and a death toll of 290 that still might rise – the country now faces an inquest into how such a costly intelligence failure could have taken place.

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