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Sri Lankan security forces in race against time

Sri Lanka which suffered for decades from a bloody separatist from the Tamil Tigers – is now grappling with a new terror threat.

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Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

THE SRI LANKAN authorities and public are still trying to come to terms with the rapidly changing security landscape following last weeks terror attack. On Easter Sun-day Islamist extremists carried out coordinated suicide bombings on multiple churches and hotels, killing over 250 people and injuring more than 500. What makes the at-tack even more shocking is that the Sri Lankan Government says the group who carried out the attack are the little known National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ). The Islamic State,however, has claimed that it was behind the attacks. The Sri Lankan Government has said that it believes that “these attacks could not have succeeded” without assistance from international networks.

Scrutiny and criticism of some members of the Sri Lankan Government and the security agencies has been growing after it emerged that warnings about an upcoming attack were ignored. Both US and Indian intelligence was allegedly used in early April to warn the Sri Lankan authorities. This intelligence about possible attacks was supposedly passed onto the relevant heads of security branches. What is clear is that there has been a monumental failure of intelligence, communication, or both. A cabinet Spokesman said that following large disagreements and arguments last year between the Prime Minister and President that the Prime Minister had been cut out of security briefings. It is not yet known if Mr Sirisena – the President – had seen the security reports; he has that he had not.

A further 15 people, including six children, were killed on Saturday during a police raid in Sainthamaruthu, a town near where the suspected ring leader of the attacks lived. During a police raid, gunmen opened fire on security officials and three men set off explosive devices.State television images show weapons and a drone among the explosion wreck. It is reported that in another raid that occurred simultaneously that a drone was also found on that premises. This has raised fears that a remote attack may be attempted,and that the group may have potential capacity to cause harm than originally feared.One thing that has become alarmingly clear is that Sri Lanka– which suffered for decades from a bloody separatist from the Tamil Tigers – is now grappling with anew terror threat. Security presence around the island has been heightened. Churches have said they will close indefinitely and security at Mosques around the country have been stepped up as the Muslim community fears revenge attacks.

One of the most heart wrenching stories to come out of the attacks is the story of Ben Nicholson. He had been on holiday in Sri Lanka with his wife and two children, staying at the Shangri La Hotel, one of those targeted. Mr Nicholson was later to realise that his youngest daughter, Annabel, 11, his son Alex,14, and his wife Anita had all been killed in the hotel explosion. He went to Sri Lanka with his family but will be returning home alone. Sri Lanka held its first mass funeral for victims of the attack yesterday.The island remains on high alert over possible further attacks of a similar nature, Sri Lanka’s President has said that up to 130 individuals were involved with up to 70 still at large and posing an active risk. Sri Lanka, which saw its tourist trade devastated by the 2008 Boxing Day Tsunami has seen the number of foreign tourists surge in recent years in a remarkable recovery. The UK government has now warned against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka

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