Colombo, May 11 : For many Sri Lankans, it was a horrific shock to learn that local Muslims could have been behind the suicide attacks that killed more than 250 people last month.
How could a small group have planned such a devastating wave of bombings undetected? The clues were there in mid-January, when Sri Lankan police stumbled upon 100kg (220lb) of explosives and 100 detonators, hidden in a coconut grove near the Wilpattu national park, which is a remote wilderness in Puttalam district on the west coast of the country, according to a BBC News report.
Police were investigating attacks on statues of the Buddha by suspected Islamist radicals elsewhere in the country. Four men from a newly formed "radical Muslim group" were arrested.Three months later, suspected Islamists blew themselves up in packed churches and hotels in Colombo, Negombo and the eastern city of Batticaloa killing more than 250 people, including 40 foreigners.
But that arms seizure in the coconut grove was not an isolated incident. It was just one of several suspicious incidents in the months leading up to the bombings that should have rung alarm bells, especially given reports that several Sri Lankans who had joined the Islamic State group in Syria were back home.It didn't.
We now know the carnage on Easter Sunday happened despite repeated warnings about potential attacks from intelligence services in neighbouring India and the US.
It was only after the bombing that police identified links between two of those arrested in Puttalam in January and the suspected ringleader of the mass-casualty attacks.
Political in-fighting and factionalism going all the way to the top of the Sri Lankan government is part of the reason warnings went unheeded, but complacency about the peace in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war in 2009 also played a role.Sporadic anti-Muslim riots since the end of the war between Tamil minority separatists and the government had fomented anger and discontent, but on the face of it nothing had pointed to a co-ordinated assault 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-terrorism operative who had been keeping a tab on some of the radicals involved in the Easter Sunday attacks.It would have required detailed planning, safe houses, an extensive network of planners and handlers, expertise on bomb-making and significant funding - so how did all of this slip so far under the radar? (UNI)