ISIS Claims Responsibility For Sri Lanka Church Terror Attacks
ISIS is claiming responsibility for Sunday's attacks in Sri Lanka, a strong sign that the claims by the Trump Administration that it had largely defeated the group were not true.
The Islamic State. also known as ISIS and ISIL, which the United States and other western nations have claimed several times over the course of the last year or so has been defeated on the ground in Syria, is claiming responsibility for the attacks of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people:
More than two days after the Sri Lanka bombings, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks.
The group’s news agency, Amaq, released a bulletin on Tuesday stating that the attacks were carried out by “Islamic State fighters.” The statement, which was disseminated on the group’s chat rooms on the app Telegram, also said that the bombings targeted Christians as well as citizens of countries belonging to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
In a later news release, the Islamic State identified the seven suicide bombers by their noms de guerre, and specified which of them had gone to each of the churches that was bombed during what it called “the infidel holiday.”
Three of the noms de guerre match the names issued by an Islamic State-linked chat room on the app Telegram a day after the attack. On Monday, the “Greenb1rds” chat room posted three images of masked men it said were the “commandos” involved in the bombings, posing before the Islamic State flag and pointing their index fingers skyward, a gesture used by Islamic State adherents to indicate belief in a single God.
The group has repeatedly called for assaults on churches, particularly since the New Zealand mosque attacks.
The Islamic State claim suggests that the recapture of territory it once held in Syria and Iraq does not mean the group is no longer a threat.
“We can’t tell you immediately, definitively to whom they had links,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at a news conference. But from the start, he said, “there was suspicion that there were links with ISIS.”
Now, he added, “some of the evidence points to that.”
“There seems to have been foreign involvement” in the bombings, Mr. Wickremesinghe said, and investigators believe that some of the attackers “have traveled abroad and have come back.”
He added that some of the attackers, including one or two of the suicide bombers, had been in Syria. But he stopped short of saying that they had fought for the Islamic State, adding that their time in Syria was not necessarily the source of the bombing plot.
“You can meet people in any part,” he said. “You can meet them in London. You needn’t go to the region.”
The prime minister said several countries were aiding in the investigation, and the United States ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina B. Teplitz, said that the F.B.I. had joined it.
Sri Lankan officials raised the possibility on Tuesday that the bombers were hoping to avenge the killings of 50 Muslims in a shooting spree at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.
“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” a junior defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, told Parliament.
Later Tuesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe put it more cautiously, saying that investigators were looking into a possible connection.
“It’s possible it could have been because of the Christchurch attacks,” he said. “We cannot say here.”
Neither official said what had led investigators to think that the bombings might have been retribution for the New Zealand massacre. And it was not clear how that theory aligned with warnings months earlier that Islamist radicals posed a serious threat and were stockpiling explosives and other weapons.
Officials said on Monday that a little-known Sri Lankan extremist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, had carried out the bombings.
On Tuesday, Mr. Wijewardene said that two local Islamist radical groups were involved: National Thowheeth Jama’ath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. Again, Mr. Wickremesinghe was less definite, saying, “some investigations are underway on this other group.”
Government officials say the people who carried out the attacks were all Sri Lankan.
Assuming that these reports are true, and the Sri Lankan government, which reportedly had some form of advance warning about the attacks before they happened, seems to be confirming that is, then it is significant for a number of reasons.
First of all, it makes the claims of the Trump Administration and other nations that ISIS had been largely defeated with the fall of its capital in Syria appear to be at best an exaggeration and at the worst a bald-faced lie. On some level, this was already apparent given the fact that ISIS fighters remain active on the ground in Syria and continue to control significant territory in that country and the fact that they continue to pose a challenge for American, Iraqi, and Kurdish forces across the border in Iraq. Given this, the idea that ISIS has been defeated is one that should be dismissed from serious discussion. While they have undoubtedly suffered significant losses as a result of allied military action in Syria they are far from being defeated as either a fighting force or a force capable of reaching out and either inspiring or carrying out mass terror attacks like the one we saw on Sunday.
Second, these reports indicate that even without the territory it has lost in Syria and Iraq. ISIS remains a potent threat both to the extent that it can train potential terrorists to strike in their home countries and to the extent that it can still release propaganda aimed at potential jihadists throughout the world. Their ability to do this was already apparent long before they suffered setbacks on the ground, of course, but attacks like the one on Sunday seem to make clear that they still retain the ability to spread this propaganda notwithstanding those losses. One of the reasons for that, of course, is the fact that even before their military setbacks ISIS was making moves to expand its influence in other parts of the world such as North Africa, where Libya has become something of a breeding ground for all kinds of terrorist groups, and in places like Afghanistan. There have also been reports of ISIS agents making contact with Jihadist groups in nations such as Indonesia which, for the time being. has managed to avoid being sucked into the fray. This attack suggests that even the tiny and relatively isolated nation of Sri Lanka is not beyond their ability to infiltrate.