The Terror In Sri Lanka
For the first time in its history the Catholic Church has canceled Mass throughout a country for security reasons. This is due to the fear that more Sri Lankan churches will be victimized by terrorist attacks. The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, said he saw an internal security document the week after Easter 2019 warning of further attacks on Sri Lankan churches.
This news comes as work crews are finally finishing cleaning up the debris of blast at St. Anthony’s church in Colombo. All that is left is glass on the floors and shoes. Many shoes. And a damaged tower clock stuck at 8:45 – the exact moment a bomber detonated his device during Easter Mass, 2019.
Sri Lanka has not had a calm history. A brutal civil war that began in 1983 killed an estimated 100,000 civilians and 50,000 armed forces before peace was declared in 2009. Then the island just off the southern coast of India enjoyed a relative calm. The tourist industry boomed until Easter Sunday, 2019, when a tightly coordinated terrorist attack broke the peace.
Suicide bombers blew themselves up at three churches and four hotels. The blasts happened almost simultaneously. Five occurred in Colombo. The only church targeted there was the Shrine to St. Anthony, where a suicide bomber blew himself up during the Easter Mass. Three other suicide bombers targeted high end hotels in Colombo: The Kingsbury, the Shangri-la, and the Cinnamon. Another bomb blew up at a residence in Colombo.
North of Colombo lies Negombo, home to St. Sebastian Church. A parishoner recalled seeing a man with a large back pack enter the church:
“People say that when he was arriving he stroked children’s heads, held one child’s hands, and walked in very peacefully. As soon as he reached the entrance he sped up, he almost ran down the aisle. When he reached the very middle of the church, I saw him grab the straps of the backpack and hitch it up. There was a huge explosion, a bright flash of light. The tiles of the roof immediately caved in, then I blacked out.”
“When I woke up, the first thing I remember seeing was limbs,” (he continued). “More than the blood, it was just pieces of people, strewn all over. These were little children who came in holding their mothers’ hands, and then they were gone in a split second. I am finding it very hard to comprehend. I am sad and angry and hurt, all at the same time. It was not a man who did this, he couldn’t have been a man. It is like the stories our mothers told us to keep us afraid, it was like the devil incarnate had appeared.”
The reported death tolls ended up around 250 people dead and 500 people injured. The overwhelming majority of victims were Sri Lankan, but 38 foreigners also died (British, Americans, Australians, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, and Portuguese).
The suicide bombers and others arrested in connection with the attacks were all Sri Lankan. Most of the locals involved belonged to a small, radical Sri Lankan Muslim group called National Thowfeek Jamaath (NJT). Its founder, a local extremist named Zahran Hashim, was said to have planned the attack, which included Hashim blowing himself up at a Colombo hotel.
Despite the major involvement of locals, experts in terrorism noted the highly coordinated nature of the attack, the sophisticated bombs and detonations used, and the fact that until Easter Sunday Hashim was best known for hot air and minor vandalism, and concluded NJT’s founder had outside help. In fact terrorism experts world wide were unanimous in their belief that NJT had international help in carrying out their massacre of Christians and tourists.
ISIS corroborated this theory by quickly stepping up to take responsibility for the massacre (yes, they are proud about killing hundreds of people). The organization’s news agency, Amaq, issued a statement: “The perpetrators of the attack … were Islamic State fighters.” Amaq also published a picture of seven masked men it claimed were the suicide bombers in a gesture of allegiance to ISIS.
Whether or not the masked men were in fact the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks, they had help not only from ISIS but from their fellows Sri Lankans. Experts estimate it took anywhere from 80 to 100 people to assist in carrying out the attacks. The list included, for a short time, the wife of one of the suicide bombers who died later in the day on Easter Sunday. As Sri Lankan police closed in on her residence the woman, who was pregnant, blew herself up.
Consequently, there have been many arrests of Sri Lankan Muslims believed to have conspired in the attacks. Perhaps there is even an excess of arrests, for the Sri Lankan government is chagrined over reports that Sri Lankan security forces yawned over intelligence reports warning of possible Easter attacks.
In the bloody aftermath Sri Lanka’s president, Maithripala Sirisena, demanded the resignations of the defense secretary and national police chief, a dramatic internal shake-up that comes too late for the families of those affected by the violence. Over 10,000 Sri Lankan military troops were deployed to hunt down suspects and thwart other potential attacks.
Some early suspects were Zahran’s father and two brothers, who took to social media to call for war against non-Muslims. As troops moved in on the family’s residence on April 26, gunfire broke out and then explosions, as the three men blew up themselves, six children, and three women, including Zahran’s mother.
Zahran’s NTJ is now banned from Sri Lanka. The government also banned the wearing of burqas, the enveloping outer garment traditionally worn by Muslim women to cover their faces and upper bodies. It seems the terrorists made effective use of burqas as disguises and a way to hide the explosives attached to their bodies.
FBI and U.S. military officials are assisting Sri Lankan military. Dozens of Muslims have been arrested thus far, and a striking fact is that many of the more zealous Islamic State militants are well educated. Evidently law degrees, engineering degrees, successful careers, and large families are not worth staying alive for.
Like Christians, Muslims are a minority in Sri Lanka. The population has several ethnicities, but is overwhelmingly Buddhist. Christian and Muslims each amount to about seven and ten percent of the population, respectively. Since the end of the civil war each monotheistic religion practiced live and let live, at least until Easter Sunday. It is said that Muslims felt persecuted in Sri Lanka, but it is difficult to understand how Christians, even more of a distinct minority, could be seen as oppressors. It might almost be said that Christians might be a safer target because of their small numbers.
Some have said (including Muslims) that the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka were payback for the mosque attack in New Zealand. This is possible of course, but the timing seems all wrong. The bombings in Sri Lanka were extremely well planned, which would seem to rule out spur of the moment acts of revenge. It is more likely that the planning for the Sri Lanka terror preceded the mosque attack in New Zealand.
Sri Lankan Christians are wounded and exasperated. Relations with Muslims of course are strained to the breaking point. The possibility of more terror from their co-religionists must seem unbearable to them. And now, when they need their religion the most, churches are closed to prevent more bloodshed.
Church leadership is doing what it can to tend to their flocks. In Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith held a televised Mass, attended by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Crowds of Catholics gathered outside the heavily guarded church of St. Anthony to sing songs and pray the Rosary. In a show of solidarity, a sizable crowd of Sri Lankan Buddhists also attended. Candles were lit and placed by a makeshift memorial for the victims and their families – that is, virtually all the Catholics present.
Afterwards, Cardinal Ranjith blasted the Sri Lankan government for ineptitude and warned that his community might take justice into their own hands if perpetrators are not caught and put on trial. “I want to state that we may not be able to keep people under control in the absence of a stronger security program,” Ranjith said. “We can’t forever give them false promises and keep them calm.”
Pope Francis spoke on Easter Sunday of his “heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka], wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.” On Easter Monday the Pope reiterated his closeness to Cardinal Ranjith and the3 Archdiocese of Colombo, offered prayers for the dead, the wounded, and their families, and urged the international community to condemn “these terrorist and inhuman acts that are never justifiable.”
As a significant part of the international community, the United States reaction to the Sri Lanka terror was strangely muted. Former President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemingly could not bear to identify the victims as Christians. Each referred to Christians as “Easter worshipers.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Democrat who never misses commenting on oppression, said not a word about the Sri Lankan Christians.
The reasons are likely political. The Democratic left has included American Muslims under its umbrella of victimhood. It is a strange marriage of Western progressivism and Sharia law that, even when seen, is difficult to be believed. Under this new dispensation Muslim behavior cannot be condemned, and Christian behavior cannot be condoned, even the restraint of Sri Lanka Christians towards their Muslim neighbors.
The American left’s stubborn anti-Christian bias flies in the face of reality, given to us by a hardly pro-Christian source. BBC News reports:
The persecution of Christians in parts of the world is at near “genocide” levels, according to a report ordered by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The review, led by the Bishop of Truro the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, estimated that one in three people suffer from religious persecution. Christians were the most persecuted religious group, it found. Mr. Hunt said he felt that “political correctness” had played a part in the issue not being confronted.
The interim report said the main impact of “genocidal acts against Christians is exodus” and that Christianity faced being “wiped out” from parts of the Middle East. It warned the religion “is at risk of disappearing” in some parts of the world, pointing to figures which claimed Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5% of the population, while in Iraq they had fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000. “Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity,” the Bishop wrote.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia in April 2019, children at the Muslim American Society sing songs about decapitating their religious enemies…
Sri Lanka Troops Raid Terrorists, Find 15 Bodies in House, The Associated Press, April 27, 2019.
ISIS Claims Responsibility for Easter Sunday Bombings in Sri Lanka, by Zachary Stieber, Epoch Times, April 23 2019.
The father and two brothers of the alleged organiser of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, Zahran Hashim, were killed in a security forces operation on Friday, police say. BBC News, April 28 2019. According to police sources, they were Mohamed Hashim, and his sons Zainee Hashim and Rilwan Hashim.
Terrorist attacks have increased fivefold since 2001, according to a study of extremism by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). “Hateful ideologies are pumped into the bloodstream of fragile states via a social media network using videos and newsletters and directing collaborators through encrypted messaging apps.” USA Today, April 30 2019.