Initial reports suggested that the attacks were in retaliation to the NZ Mosque attacks directed at Muslims on 15 March 2019. This is unlikely to be the case; the nature of the attacks and the way they were conducted suggests a large amount of meticulous pre-planning. It is likely the attacks in Sri Lanka were in the planning stages before the NZ Mosque attacks. The suicide bombers would have received training and the construction of the explosive devices would have taken some time. It is likely that the targets for the attacks would have received substantial surveillance in the weeks/months before the attack. Pre-planned points of entry for the suicide bombers and the most effective location to detonate their device to cause largest damage would have been pre-defined. Easter Sunday was chosen by the attackers as a day to cause the maximum number of casualties. The attackers would have known that there would have been a large number of people attending Easter services across the country, therefore attacks caused maximum collateral casualties. The attacks on the hotels would have coincided with busy breakfast times. The targeting of Easter Sunday services was also chosen to cause global public outrage and maximum publicity. The western world would have woken up to news of the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday and may have cancelled their plans to attend an Easter Service, in fear that more terrorist attacks were planned across the globe.
NJT, the group blamed for the attack, was only previously involved in hate speech against Buddhists and not violent actions. It is unlikely that NJT worked alone, another small group in Sri Lanka, JMI has been labelled as being part of the attacks. A number of the attackers had travelled or studied overseas before returning to Sri Lanka. Zahran himself had spent some time in India. If NJT was working with IS, it is likely that members of the group may have spent some time being trained by IS either overseas or online. It may be that the suicide bombers were locally trained and had used online means, such as forums, to link up with IS. Another theory is that the attack was developed overseas but during the final stages local radicals were recruited to carry out the attacks. It has also been suggested that the attackers may have been IS fighters that had returned from Iraq or Syria following the demise of IS strongholds. If IS were involved, it is likely they provided the funding for the explosives and materiel. In a video issued by IS, Abu Bakr Baghdadi himself alluded to the attacks being in retaliation to the events in Baghouz (the last IS stronghold in Syria) and therefore directed towards the US and west, rather than the events in NZ. If IS is behind the attack it is likely that the world will experience more similar attacks due to IS being pushed out of Syria and Iraq, now resorting to other ways to highlight their presence and to undermine claims that they have been defeated.
Lone wolf attacks by IS sympathizers are not uncommon, however such a coordinated and devastating attack like the Sri Lankan bombings could be an emerging trend or tactic and highlights the impact that IS can have in any country. IS were quick to claim responsibility for the attacks, which is a common tactic, however the true extent of their involvement is still being investigated. It emerged that prior to the Easter bombings dozens of mosques and churches had been attacked by Sinhalese mobs. One Muslim was killed in 2018 during violence near the city of Randy. On Palm Sunday a week before the Easter bombings Sinhalese individuals threw stones at a centre run by the Methodist church. A spokesperson for the Bodu Bala Sena, openly said that Muslim’s want a Muslim Sri Lanka. With the holy month of Ramadan now beginning, which has historically seen a spike in activity, we may see further reactions and continued unrest not only in Sri Lanka but across the globe.
It is unclear if the attacks would have been prevented or disrupted if the intelligence had been properly disseminated, however the lack of communication between the President and Prime Minister is certainly a critical factor. The government has now fallen into crisis after openly admitting a ‘major intelligence lapse’ after warnings about the possibility of attacks occurring was not shared amongst the agencies. As a result, the President sacked the defence secretary and inspector general of police. This miscommunication and failure to provide warning or act on intelligence will result in the local populace having a lack of confidence in the government adding to ongoing uncertainty around security in the country. The government has warned about the potential of future attacks in the country even after the massive operations and raids that have been carried out by authorities highlights the government’s eagerness to attempt to restore normalcy in Sri Lanka. The announcement on 7 May by the security forces in Sri Lanka that all militants involved in the attacks had either been arrested or killed is a bold statement. Whether this is accurate will likely become apparent in the coming weeks, though there remains the potential for escalating violence amongst the Sri Lankan populous, predominantly in the form of escalating reprisals between the Muslim and Sinhalese communities.
The tourism industry in Sri Lanka will likely take a large hit, with tourism in Colombo expected to fall by 50% in the coming months. Areas outside Colombo expected to see a 30% decrease. Australia, China, the UK and the US updated their travel advice, warning citizens about travelling to Sri Lanka. Tourism is a major industry with the attacks likely to have a devastating effect on the country as a whole with experts predicting that it will take years to recover from.