Soul-Searching In Sri Lanka As ISIS Co-opts Attack To Boost Its Image

The video shows eight tunic-clad men in a circle, their hands held in unison. Chequered headscarves cover seven of their faces. An eighth man stands in the middle, his face on show and machine gun in hand, speaking in Arabic. The men repeat his every word.

That man is Mohammed Zaharan, a Sri Lankan preacher in his 40s and alleged mastermind of Sunday’s Easter massacre in Sri Lanka. Against a backdrop of the ISIS flag, he pledges bayah, or allegiance, to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the elusive and secretive leader of the group. ISIS later released the footage as proof that the coordinated suicide bomb plot that left at least 359 people dead on Sunday was its work.

Due to the scale and sophistication of the attacks, diplomats and top terrorism experts now believe that what was initially attributed to a minor local group known as National Tawheed Jamaat (NTJ) had wider, international connections.

The attacks on three churches and four luxury hotels were committed by nine well-educated extremists, including one woman, according to the Sri Lankan government. It is now the deadliest terror attack ever committed in south Asia. The cell, made up of members from across Sri Lanka, wrought a trail of destruction that left the capital, Colombo, on lockdown, the country under a state of emergency and the Sri Lankan people under a three-day nighttime curfew.

“If you look at the scale of the attacks, the level of coordination, it’s not implausible to think there are foreign linkages,” the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, told reporters in Colombo on Wednesday. British and American security services have deployed to Colombo to help investigate why the nine bombers escaped detection.

Police have arrested more than 100 suspects in connection with the plot that hit the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels and St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, as well as two more churches in the cities of Negombo and Batticaloa. An attack on a fourth, unnamed hotel failed for reasons unknown.

On Wednesday, security forces carried out a controlled explosion of a suspicious motorscooter parked near the popular Savoy cinema in Colombo. Christian leaders have closed Catholic schools, told priests not to hold mass, called for postponement of weddings and ordered its congregation not to participate in processions.

Read more.