World View: Islamic State Claims Credit for Sri Lanka Easter Sunday Bombing

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Sri Lanka bombing said to be worst since 9/11
  • ISIS claims credit for Sri Lanka Easter Sunday bombing
  • Chaos in the Sri Lanka government
  • Sri Lankans fear a return to the civil war
  • Sri Lanka’s Generational Recover Era

Sri Lanka bombing said to be worst since 9/11

One of the blasts tore through St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Getty)
One of the blasts tore through St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Getty)

The death toll has risen above 350, and over 500 injured, in the Easter Sunday bombing of churches and hotels in Colombo, the capital city, and other cities in Sri Lanka. The church bombings took place in the middle of Easter services to maximize carnage. Some analysts are saying that this is the worst terror attack since the attack on 9/11/2001.

So far, police have arrested 30 people in conjunction with the attacks.

The investigation has concluded that the perpetrators were National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ), a little-known jihadist terror group operating in South Asia. NJT has not claimed credit for the attack. In fact, no one claimed responsibility for the attack until ISIS did so through its public relations agency Amaq. NJT has been in existence since 2014 but has not previously done much more than vandalize Buddhist statues.

According to the police, the suicide bombers are well-educated, from middle- or upper-middle class well-to-do families, and hold college degrees from the United Kingdom and Australia.

That is why this is so puzzling to analysts. It is a huge leap to go from vandalizing Buddhist statues to Sunday’s extremely sophisticated attack, six coordinated suicide attacks in cities across the country, with multiple attacks, multiple attack sites, multiple cities, multiple churches, two hotels and a banquet facility all coordinated, using bombs that are fairly sophisticated.

A claim by ISIS is always suspect since they have often taken credit for terror attacks they had nothing to do with. However, in this case, the complexity of the attack combined with Christian and tourist targets that are more ISIS-like targets supports the view that ISIS was involved before the attack. Speculation now is that ISIS sent out some operatives to recruit and train NTJ, perhaps in the role of terrorist consultants.

Another question is the massive number of weapons that were involved, including caches of more weapons discovered by the police after the attack. The question of how so many weapons could be smuggled into the country was answered by one analyst who pointed out that the country is still awash with weapons from the Sri Lanka civil war that ended in 2009.

Sri Lanka is a mainly Buddhist and Hindu country, but there is a small minority of Muslims. Muslims make up 9.7 percent of the population, Roman Catholics make up 6.1 percent, Hindu 12.6 percent, and Buddhists make up 70.2 percent. The JTH is thought to have grown out of that small group of Muslims and were recruited by ISIS to plan Sunday’s attack.

ISIS claims credit for Sri Lanka Easter Sunday bombing

ISIS has suffered major setbacks in Syria and Iraq, and has lost its caliphate and all the land that it controlled. However, ISIS is not eliminated, just like al-Qaeda. Both ISIS and al-Qaeda are like terrorist fundamentalist religion sects; just because you kill some of them, there are more to take its place. ISIS is the “younger” of the two terrorist groups, so they appeal to different generations, depending on the country.

So ISIS has to adopt a different game plan, and that game plan is to launch terror attacks in other countries. Thus, we can expect to see more attacks like the one in Sri Lanka.

Why was Sri Lanka chosen? It has a small Muslim community, about 10% of the population, with no history of terror attacks, so it might have been easy for ISIS operatives to find a couple of dozen disaffected young people who could be radicalized and trained to carry out this attack.

One surprising aspect is that no Buddhist targets were chosen for the terror attack. These undoubtedly would have been the choice of an indigenous terror group like NTJ, but once they had pledged allegiance to ISIS, they would have been committed to the ISIS objectives. ISIS would not be interested in a Buddhist target, since they want to attack Western targets, and that leads to the selection of hotels and Catholic Churches.

There has been speculation that the attack on Catholic churches may have been in retaliation for a recent high profile attack on a Muslim mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The motivation for making this connection appears to be a purely political attempt to blame the Sri Lankan bombing on so-called “white supremacists.” However, the planning for the Sri Lanka attack must have begun months earlier. So the most influence that the New Zealand attack could have had is, perhaps, a last minute decision to attack an extra church.

Chaos in the Sri Lanka government

A major scandal is brewing because U.S. and Indian intelligence agencies had warned Sri Lanka intelligence agencies on April 4 that there was reason to believe that a terror attack would occur around Easter. The information was distributed on April 9 to some ministries, but apparently not any farther.

So after the attack on April 21, the prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe complained loudly on Monday that he had never received the warning, and if he had, the attacks could have been prevented. Wickremesinghe blamed the president for keeping it from him.

The president, Maithripala Sirisena, did not immediately respond, but finally on Tuesday said that he had not received the warning, either. However, many people believe that Sirisena did receive the warning but took no action.

In October of last year, Sirisena, who is pro-China, tried to fire Wickremesinghe, who is pro-India, over a dispute over whether China or India should be awarded a port infrastructure project.

Sirisena had wanted to replace the fired prime minister with a prime minister of his choice, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also pro-Chinese.

Rajapaksa was the president of Sri Lanka before Sirisena. When Rajapaksa was president, he signed the agreement with China to build the Hambantota seaport. This was China’s first major “debt trap” deal, putting Sri Lanka into so much debt that it had to hand control of the seaport over to China. Today, Sri Lanka is still in so much debt that it will never be paid back. Furthermore, China not only has control of the Hambantota seaport, but it also has control of a large enclave of Chinese workers and their families who are employees of the seaport. The seaport project has been a disaster for Sri Lanka, and it is not hard to see why Rajapaksa is unpopular.

Now that the Easter Sunday attack has occurred, Sri Lanka is returning to a full-scale chaotic constitutional crisis. On Wednesday, Sirisena on Wednesday fired the chief of police and defense secretary. However, the general public is furious that government officials received intelligence information from India and the U.S. weeks ago and did not act on it. Many are blaming it on the bitter dispute between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lankans fear a return to the civil war

Sri Lankans had hoped and assumed that this level of violence was over, once and for all, once the Sri Lankan civil war ended in May 2009. As a result, people became complacent and security was lax.

For 30 years, from the 1970s to May 2009, Sri Lanka’s entire society has been dominated by the Sri Lankan civil war between the ethnic majority (Buddhist) Sinhalese and a separatist faction, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers, consisting of an army of thousands from the ethnic minority (Hindu) Tamils.

It is worthwhile reviewing how it ended because that’s highly relevant today. As I was developing generational theory, I followed the Sri Lanka civil war closely and wrote a number of articles about it since it was one of only two generational crisis wars going on at the time (the other being in Darfur).

There had been low-level violence between the Tamils and Sinhalese since the 1970s, with periods of violence separated by numerous peace agreements and ceasefires. In 2006, the tempo of violence increased sharply, and it seemed clear that there would be no more peace treaties, although there was officially a moribund ceasefire in effect that had been negotiated by the Norwegians in 2002.

In January 2008, a series of terror attacks by the LTTE caused the Sri Lankan army to issue a statement saying that the ceasefire agreement would be thrown out completely and the army would destroy the LTTE by the end of the year. From the point of view of generational theory, this was a signal that the war was taking a major turn. Patience was running out, the value of a human life was diminishing, and nothing mattered anymore except winning. This was the point where the civil war turned into a generational crisis war.

During the next year, both sides committed acts that have been described as war crimes. In brief, the Tamil Tiger terrorists embedded themselves into civilian neighborhoods so that any bombs targeting Tamil Tigers would also kill civilians, and the Sinhalese army bombed the Tamil Tiger locations, even though it meant bombing civilians. This is a classic example of the moral degeneracy that occurs on both side of a generational crisis war as it approaches its climax and the need to win takes precedence over everything else, particularly the lives of civilians.

In the spring of 2009, it was clear that Sri Lanka was approaching the climax of the generational crisis war. And this is where all the reporters, politicians, and analysts got their analyses completely wrong. Everyone that I read was saying that one battle was nearing an end, but that it had been going on since the 1970s, and would continue far into the future. I even wrote a message to Stratfor and told them that their analysis was wrong and that the war would end completely. Of course, they ignored it. Stratfor charges big bucks for their newsletter but, like other analysts, they were completely wrong and just followed the herd and wrote what everyone else was writing and got it wrong like all the others did.

When a generational crisis war ends, it does not then go on afterwards in another battle. When Berlin was captured, the Nazis did not continue the war in some other country. When Japan was bombed, the Japanese did not continue the war on another Pacific island.

A crisis war ends with what I call an “explosive climax,” referring to the genocidal acts and atrocities that both sides commit out of desperation to end the war. Once the war concludes, each side is exhausted and traumatized – not just because of the atrocities the other side had committed, but because of their own atrocities.

And that is what happened in Sri Lanka. The BBC, Stratfor, the AP were all predicting that war would continue, and they were all wrong. The war ended and there was no more fighting as the Generational Dynamics analysis correctly predicted.

Sri Lanka’s Generational Recover Era

A similar error is being made today by analysts and journalists analyzing Sri Lanka’s society today. They all assume that Sri Lankan society is like the society in India, in America, in Europe, or someplace similar.

To understand the mood of Sri Lanka’s society today, you have to compare it to, for example, America in the 1950s, in a generational recovery era following WWII. That was the time when the Silent Generation was taking charge. They had been so traumatized by the Great Depression and WWII that Time Magazine called them the Silent Generation because they just did their job and never complained.

Sri Lanka’s society today is like that, in a generational recovery era following the crisis civil war. Everyone – the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Muslims – everyone is still in a state of shock, traumatized by the atrocities that had been committed during the civil war, just doing their jobs, not complaining.

There are small groups of exceptions. There is Bodu Bala Sena (BBS – Forces of Buddhist Power), a terror group led by Buddhist monk Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, formed in 2012 to purify Sri Lanka for the Buddhists by exterminating the Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. Gnanasara was jailed last year for terrorist acts.

Another group is the one in focus today: The National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ, National Monotheism Organisation), a formerly obscure Islamist group formed in 2014 with a reputation for vandalizing Buddhist statues. The Muslims were perhaps a little less traumatized than the Buddhists and Hindus who committed all the atrocities during the civil war, but they were still deeply affected.

The main difference for NTJ, apparently, is that a disaffected group vandalizing Buddhist statues were radicalized by ISIS operatives to accept training and to turn their targets away from Buddhists towards Christians and Western tourists.

Generational theory provides a description of Sri Lanka’s society in the years to come and, unfortunately, the news is not good. When the war ended in May 2009, the Sinhalese, Tamils, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims were all traumatized and became like the “Silent Generation,” just doing their jobs without complaining. But as a new generation of kids grows up after the war, they do not share those traumatized attitudes and they are going to be looking for revenge for real or imagined atrocities. That means that the frequency of terror attacks by Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims is going to increase as the new generational cycle proceeds. Sydney Morning Herald and News First (Sri Lanka) and Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) and AP and Sky News (Australia) and Al-Jazeera

Related Articles:

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Sri Lanka, National Thowheeth Jamaath, NTJ, National Monotheism Organisation. Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sinhalese, Tamils, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, Tamil Tigers, Bodu Bala Sena, BBS, Forces of Buddhist Power, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mahinda Rajapaksa, India, China, Hambantota port, China, Belt and Road Initiative, BRI
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