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Sri Lanka attacks: The family networks behind the bombings



  A Jesus statue with a raised arm in the midst of rubble in St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, after the bombing on Easter Sunday.

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A statue amidst rubble in St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, after the bombing on Easter Sunday

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For many people in Sri Lanka it was a terrible shock to learn that local Muslims were behind the suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people last month [19659008] , As could plan a small group to plan such a devastating wave of bombings undiscovered white spaces

 ? The cues were in mid-January when the Sri Lankan police came across 100 kg of explosives and 100 detonators hidden in a coconut palm grove near Wilpattu National Park, a remote wilderness in the Puttalam district on the West Coast of the country. </p><div><script async src=

The police investigated attacks on Buddha statues by alleged Islamist radicals in other parts of the country. Four men of a newly formed "radical Muslim group" were arrested.

Three months later, alleged Islamists blew themselves up in crowded churches and hotels in Colombo, Negombo, and the eastern city of Batticaloa, killing more than 250 people, including 40 foreigners. This was just one of several suspicious incidents in the months leading up to the bombings, which should have sounded alarm bells, especially in light of reports that several Sri Lankans who joined the Islamic State Group in Syria were back home.

It was not like that.

We now know that the massacre on Easter Sunday, despite repeated warnings of potential attacks by intelligence agencies in neighboring India and the US, has happened.

It was only after the bombing that police identified links between two of the people arrested in Puttalam in January and the alleged leader of the mass-accident attacks.

Family circles

Political struggles and factional battles are battled The way to the top of the Sri Lankan government is one reason why warnings have not been respected, but also the complacency with peace in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war in the country Year 2009 played a role.

Sporadic anti-Muslim riots since The end of the war between separatists of the Tamil minority and the government had provoked anger and discontent, but nothing indicated a coordinated attack of this magnitude.

"The Islamists surprised everyone with the deadly bombings and at the same time kept the entire operation a secret," said a former Sri Lankan counter terrorist who had been watching some of the radicals involved on Easter Sunday.

It would have required detailed planning, secure homes, an extensive network of planners and dealers, bomb-making expertise, and considerable financial resources – how has all this disappeared under radar?

  Graphic depicting terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka

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Few of these questions were answered, but sources related to security agencies, government officials, and local Muslim leaders have painted a picture of how In recent years, some stubborn radicals and IS sympathizers have secretly set up cells right under the noses of the security forces.

Investigators say certain members of individual families have been radicalized and operated as units.

"That's how they kept their intentions and movements under control," said the anti-terrorist agent, who asked for anonymity over the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation to speak openly.

Each unit then combined with other radicalized family groups to form larger networks. The assumption is that information in networks of loyalty that went beyond ideology was strictly protected. Encrypted social media networks and messaging apps have probably facilitated communication and planning.

"Investigators are now trying to figure out how these people communicated and coordinated," the agent added.

"Using families to reach." Their goal seems to be part of a new trend in these radicals. We saw some families involved in suicide attacks in Indonesia last year [on a church and a police building]said the former agent.

So far, more than 70 people have been arrested who are believed to be associated with the radicals. But not all are convinced that the nets have been dismantled.

"The main participants in the attacks and those who made these bombs are still at large … So there are suggestions that there could be a second wave of attacks," said a senior government official who is not identified Wanted, I was told last week.

"According to the theory of conventional terrorism, every suicide bomber needs at least five dealers, so if you continue like this, there are still 45 people out there [for nine bombers] out there."

It's a narrative that does not agree with that what Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said. He recently stated that all the suspects associated with the bombings were either arrested or killed.

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  Victims of the attacks:, Top, L-R: Rangana Fernando, Danadiri Fernando, Christopher Subramani, Manik Suriaaratchi and daughter Alexandria. Below, L-R: Monique Allen, Sarah and Sharon Santhakumar, Alex, Anita and Annabel Nicholson, Ramesh Raju

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The attacks killed at least 253 people and injured about 500

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The bombing has now brought Muslims into focus – the third largest community in Sri Lanka after the majority of Sinhalese and Tamils. Muslims make up about 10% of the country's 22 million inhabitants.

During the Civil War, Muslims suffered from the Tamil Tiger rebels. More than 100,000 Muslims were displaced in 1990 by rebels from the northern city of Jaffna. In attacks on mosques in the east, about 150 people were killed in the same year.

Later, hundreds of Muslims joined Sri Lanka's security forces. They were particularly in demand by intelligence services, as most Muslims speak both Sinhala and Tamil fluently. While the Sri Lankan government fought against the ethnic uprising of the Tamils, an ultra-conservative Islamic movement quietly asserted itself in the Muslim-dominated areas of the East.

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  In this file, taken on April 26, 2019, a Sri Lankan Muslim attends Friday prayers at the Dawatagaha Jumma Masjid Mosque in Colombo.

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AFP

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Muslims make up about 10% of Sri Lanka's population, and it is believed that only a small number have radicalized

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"The process began almost three decades ago, with the Wahhabi brand Islam attracting youth and financial support from abroad," said Mazook Ahamed Lebbe, an official of the Federation of Mosques in the United States Ukraine eastern city Kattankudy.

The beach town with around 47,000 inhabitants is almost exclusively Muslim. Some shops in the city center sell the Abaya – a black robe worn by some Muslim women. The city is dotted with colorful domes and minarets.

About 60 mosques and more are being built in Kattankudy. The leaders of the Muslim community say that while most mosques follow moderate and general teachings, some preach an ultra-conservative version of Islam.

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  On this picture, taken on April 25, 2019, Sri Lankan Muslim girls go with a street in Kattankudy

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AFP

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Kattankudy's Muslims fear reprisals because the preacher came from their city

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One of those attracted to the fundamentalist brand was Mohammed Zahran Hashim, a radical Kattankudy preacher who blew himself up at the Shangri-La Hotel on Easter Sunday, according to the government.

Hashim's father sent him to a religious school for his education. Soon, however, he questioned the teachers and said they would not follow "true Islam." He was kicked out of Madrassa, but continued his religious studies on his own and later began to preach – challenging the established practices of the local mosques.

"We disagreed with his views, so we did not allow him to preach in any of our mosques, and then he formed his own group," said Lebbe.

Hashim first formed a conservative group called "Darul Athar" and later founded the 2014 Hardline National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ). This is the group that was blamed by the Sri Lankan government for the attacks.

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  Zahran Hashim

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Zahran Hashim was identified as the leader of the bombers

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Members of the NTJ were previously known to the police for destroying Buddhist statues and clashing with other Muslim groups. The idea that they were able to carry out the slaughter of Easter Sunday made many perplexed.

In the early years, the NTJ was able to raise funds from overseas, especially from the Middle East, India and Malaysia. The money helped the group build their own mosque near the beach in Kattankudy. The building was sealed because the government had banned the NTJ after the attacks.

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  The NTJ Mosque founded in Kattankudy Zahran Hashim

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Reuters

Caption [19659005] The NTJ Mosque, which Zahran Hashim once founded, had hundreds of followers – became but now closed

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As a preacher, Hashim was inspired by the Wahhabi tradition of practicing a strict and rigorous form of Islam.

But Muslim groups in Kattankudy said he had gone further and joined an extremist ideology. The NTJ fought against the small community of Sufi Muslims in the city who follow a mystical form of faith.

In 2017, Hashim and NTJ members clashed with a group of Sufi Muslims at an event, with his followers brandishing swords.

Ten members of the NTJ, including Hashim's father and second brother, were arrested. But Hashim and his brother Rilwan have gone underground. After widespread criticism, the NTJ said he expelled him, but some Muslim leaders said Hashim remained influential in the group.

While hiding, he published hate speech videos on social media scolding "infidels." It seems that Hashim has succeeded in involving most of his family members in his extremist thinking and persuading them to take the path of violence.

  BBC chart shows police raids after attacks

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"You you were a normal Muslim family, Hashim's father was poor and was known to the community here, Hashim was a good preacher and the Qur'an very familiar … Nobody would have thought that Hashim and his family could do such things, "he told Mr Lebbe.

"I met Zahran's father and one of his brothers a week before the attacks on Easter Sunday, but they behaved normally, we still have a mystery about how they have been radicalized to that extent," said a relative of Hashim and former NTJ member.

Zahran Hashim's parents, two brothers, and their families are said to have been killed when, on April 26, just days after the attacks, they were cornered by security forces in the town of Sainthamaruthu south of Kattankudy. Three men detonated explosives, killing a total of 15 people, including several children.

In the midst of the rubble, the police found white dresses that were usually worn by Buddhist women during temples. They suspect that the militants had planned to enter the temple disguised during the Buddhist festival of Vesak in mid-May to carry out further attacks.

"We were able to explain five of the nine sets of clothes that were bought in a clothing store. There are four sets missing," an official at the construction site told me. Hashim's wife and daughter survived with injuries.

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  Schoolbooks for children were found in the rubble of Sainthamaruthu

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Schoolbooks for children were found in the rubble of Sainthamaruthu

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On April 24, Mohammad Hashim Madaniya, Hashim's sister, told the BBC that she had sharply condemned her brother's actions and lost contact with him two years ago. She said she had not seen or heard anything from her extended family since shortly before the explosions. According to her version of the events, she was one of the few family members who were not part of the network.

A week later, police arrested Ms. Madaniya and said she found nearly two million Sri Lankan rupees ($ 12,000) from her home during a raid. They claimed that she had received the money from her brother in Colombo a few days before the explosions. Ms. Madaniya, who is still in detention, has received no response.

Radicalization

Some have wondered if anti-Muslim riots in the central district of Kandy in February 2018 could have driven more people to extremism.

At least two people were killed, a mosque was set on fire, and hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged by violent mobs that led to a state of emergency. As a result, local Muslims told me that they felt that the state had not done enough to protect them.

But few Muslim youths had been radicalized years before these riots. According to the authorities, dozens of people were attracted to IS after the extremist group declared a caliphate in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

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  Sri Lankan police forces patrol the ruins of a damaged shop in the central district of Kandy March 6, 2018,

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Anti-Muslim riots in Kandy last year led to the imposition of a state of emergency

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Mohamed Muhsin Nilam, a headmaster from central Sri Lanka, was the first Sri Lankan to join IS in Syria. He died in 2015 in Raqqa. "It is believed that he has influenced or significantly influenced the radicalization of some of the suicide bombers who attacked Easter Sunday," said the anti-terrorist agent.

It is not clear if one of the bombers actually traveled to Syria. According to the investigators Abdul Latheef Mohamed Jameel reached Turkey in 2014, but then returned home.

Jameel came from a wealthy tea-trading family and studied in the UK and Australia before attempting to travel to Syria. His destination on April 21 was the luxury hotel Taj Samudra in Colombo, but his bomb probably failed and he was seen leaving the compound. Later, he blew himself up in a motel in a suburb of Dehiwala and killed two guests.

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  A Western-trained bomber Abdul Latheef Mohamed Jameel (wearing a striped shirt and hat) leaves the Taj Hotel Samudra in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019

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A man believed to be Abdul Latheef Mohamed Jameel was seen leaving the Taj Samudra hotel

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Investigators suspect that Jameel, a 37-year-old with four children, was the link between domestic radicals and the IS or other overseas Islamist groups.

Several years ago, his family became concerned

"He was completely radicalized and supported extremist ideology and I tried to argue with him," the official said. "When I asked him how he got into it … he said that he participated in the sermons of the radical British preacher Anjem Choudary in London, saying he met him during the sermons."

Anjem Choudary is considered one of the most British preachers of influential and dangerous radical preachers. He was sentenced and imprisoned in 2016 on invitation to support the Islamic State Group, but was released in 2018.

Friends of Jameel said that the US invasion of Iraq was a key factor in shaping his views. The investigators believe he has become more radical after moving to Australia in 2009. When he returned to Sri Lanka four years later, he was under surveillance, although it is unclear how long this lasted.

The Spice Traders

It is not entirely clear how Hashim, a cleric from the East, contacted two sons of a wealthy spice merchant in Colombo – Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ibrahim. The two brothers carried out suicide bombings on Easter Sunday.

A Muslim community leader told me that Hashim had married a woman from downtown Kurunegala. Ilham Ibrahim, who targeted the Shangri-La with Zahran Hashim, managed the family's spice farm in Matale, about 50 km from Kurunegala. It is believed that Ilham Ibrahim and Hashim came into contact in this area.

Hours after the first explosions, the police raided Ilham Ibrahim's family mansion in Dematagoda suburb in Colombo. Police say his wife Fatima Ibrahim detonated a suicide vest and killed herself, three of her children and three officers.

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  Inshaf Ibrahim and his father were pictured in 2016
                
                
                
                 

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Inshaf Ibrahim (R) and his father (C) received an award from a Sri Lankan minister in 2016

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Officials and security experts are aware that carrying out nine suicide operations would require careful planning and enormous financial support.

Two other suspects, Mohammad Abdul-Haq and Mohammad Shaheed Abdul-Haq, who are from downtown Mawanella, were arrested a week after the bombings. They are suspected of having ties to the brothers Ibrahim.

"Investigators have found a safe home for the Haq brothers in Puttalam district overlooking a lagoon, and investigators have found links indicating that the advance money to buy the property came from one of the Ibrahim brothers." said the former intelligence official. 19659023] The father of the Ibrahim brothers, Mohamed Ibrahim, remains in custody. He is well-known in Colombo's business circles, politically well connected and once ran for parliament unsuccessfully. He has not been charged or heard since his detention.

Investigators believe that Jameel influenced the Ibrahim brothers. The families knew each other.

The Political Groups

While people in Sri Lanka are still shaken by the shock and pain of the attacks, they are equally shocked by the political confrontation and official handling of the consequences of the explosions. [19659023] President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe belong to two different political parties and have hostile relations. Their efforts to undermine each other seem to have created a communication gap in the heart of the government.

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  Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe

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President Maithripala Sirisena (L) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (R) are at Logs

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The president oversees the security forces, and shortly after the bombings, the prime minister announced that an Indian Intelligence Service warning against attacks had not been shared with him. President Sirisena has explicitly stated that even senior intelligence officials did not pass the information on to him.

Bhavani Fonseka, a human rights lawyer, said the dispute between the two leaders had an impact on the country. "It's more to the point of how it affected safety … It's a deeply troubling point," she said.

The lack of communication between different parts of the government was also revealed when two ministries accused each other of causing false accident figures. The number of people killed in the bombing was reduced by more than one hundred five days after the attacks.

Once, the Sri Lankan police had to apologize after falsely identifying a US woman as a suspect.

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Media Signature President of Sri Lanka: IS "chose Sri Lanka to show that they exist"

Most government officials who spoke to the BBC have to admit that there is probably still sleeping cells

This raises the question of why the group of Islamic states is targeting a country like Sri Lanka, where Muslims are a minority.

The senior government official said the group – which is physically decimated in Syria and Iraq – regards the island as "part of their caliphate."

President Sirisena told the BBC earlier this week that they had selected a "country that recently made peace to make the claim that IS still exists." for decades. But this time, the forces they want to invade are invisible, inspiring, and possibly supported by global terrorist networks. The fight is likely to be lengthy and protracted and many fear that the country will be vulnerable as long as the policy remains broken.

Read more about the victims of the attacks on Sri Lanka


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