India has activated the Coast Guard to scan the shared waters, to make sure that none of the surviving Easter Day plotters in Sri Lanka escape out of the country, using the sea-route.
By N Sathiya Moorthy
At the end of a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), a ‘relic’ from the LTTE era, the President’s Media Department in Colombo said that Sri Lanka would “seek international assistance”, implying that the authorities suspected the involvement of international organisations, given the dastardly depth and width of the ‘Easter Day massacre’. Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne also named the local ‘National Thowheed Jamath’ (NTJ) as the suspected group to which the perpetrators of the serial-blasts belonged. It was obviously aimed at ending speculation about the involvement of one group or the other, one nation or the other.
Hours after the attack, which has so far claimed nearly 300 lives, including those of foreign nationals, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the perpetrators were all Sri Lankan nationals. A day later, Health Minister Senaratne reiterated the same, indicating that the government was wary of jumping to conclusions beyond what was known to the investigators. It could, however, not take away the limited media discourse on the why and how of the authorities concerned not taking necessary action on the advance alert provided by a ‘foreign intelligence agency’.
A section of the mainline Sri Lankan media, which is otherwise responsible and cooperating with the government in spiking rumours of every kind, is already asking as to how their counterparts in India knew about ‘NCJ involvement’ at least half an hour before the Sri Lankan police made the discovery/disclosure. Earlier, media, especially the social media, had reported the tip-off by a ‘foreign intelligence agency’, going as far as to name Indian agencies as the source of the alert.
PM Wickremesinghe, in his first post-blasts news conference on Sunday, did mention that neither he nor any of his Cabinet ministers had advance knowledge of the carnage. He said the government would enquire into the reports that a ‘foreign intelligence agency’ had alerted the police chief, IG Punith Jayasundara, close to a fortnight ago about a plot to bomb the Easter celebrations and how the NCJ was involved. The IG has not spoken out as yet. However, going by Sri Lankan media reports, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo and the head of the Catholic Church in the country, had claimed ignorance about the plot until after the event.
Tight vigil all round
According to media reports, India has already activated the Coast Guard to scan the shared waters, to make sure that none of the surviving Easter Day plotters in Sri Lanka escape out of the country, using the sea-route. Needless to say, a silent alert would have been sounded across the region, for keeping a close vigil on all airports, too.
If media reports naming India’s as the ‘foreign intelligence agency’ that had alerted Sri Lanka about the ‘Easter Day plot’ are true, it goes without saying that they are also keeping a close watch on developments of the kind in the shared neighbourhood and possibly beyond. Now after some media reports have linked Sri Lankan NCJ to similarly-named outfits in India, especially southern Tamil Nadu, these agencies would be re-visiting and taking a closer look on them, too.
It is in the open domain that Indian security agencies, both federal and at the state-level, have been closely monitoring the movement of individuals and groups even more after the spurt in ‘IS-related activities’, especially on the internet, but not stopping there. The question is whether they had any linkages with counterparts in the neighbourhood, during the IS war in Syria and especially after its failure – and the consequent return of IS cadres to their parent-nations in South Asia, including India, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
In the light of the Sri Lanka blasts, governments in India have naturally put their security apparatus on alert. State governments, especially in south India, have also been keeping a closer watch. The fact that campaigning and polling in the Elections-2019 in the South are ending early on – the last phase in the South was on Tuesday, 23 April – they all can breathe relatively easy.
It is said that the Sri Lankan government’s decision to impose night curfew was to ensure that surviving plotters, if any, try to leave the nation, using the darkness for cover. Considering that the investigators have made some early breakthroughs, by identifying at least one of the suicide-bombers at a Colombo five-star hotel, and also broke into a hide-out in a Colombo suburb, attempts to escape by nervous plotters could not be ruled out.
Not taken for given
It is tempting to start at the point that the large quantities of explosives used in the serial blasts implied a larger conspiracy and the involvement of overseas players. True as it may be. The LTTE, in its time, did procure vast quantities of weapons, ammunition, explosives and detonators, from elsewhere and smuggled them into the country. The investigators need to establish this point and convince themselves that it’s the case this time too.
If there was a ‘foreign hand’ in the LTTE plots, it was only in terms of suppliers and sellers of the killer-contraband, not co-plotters, other than fellow Sri Lankan Tamil (SLT) sympathisers and cadres of the outfit. This is not to say that the Easter Day plotters did not have a foreign hand guiding and/or directing them, but in the Sri Lankan context, nothing could be taken for given, but needed to be investigated independently, to establish or rule out all possibilities.
India has a long coast-line, running close to the Sri Lankan shores and waters. India also has a large Tamil-speaking population, especially in southern Tamil Nadu, but not excluding the neighbouring States of Kerala and Karnataka. There has been a history of the LTTE having sympathetic support-groups in Tamil Nadu especially, but possibly elsewhere too, in the rest of south India and also the rest of India. At least a couple of ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassins’ had friends in the distant capital of Delhi.
Yet, the LTTE was also known to have hijacked a Kerala fishing vessel, ‘Sri Krishna’, with Tamil Nadu crew in mid-sea to reach its weapon stores from a bigger vessel to their hideouts along the Sri Lankan shores. Thus, any Sri Lankan assumption, which is not founded on the specifics that their investigators collect, could well end up being misleading and counter-productive even in these changed circumstances of terror-probe and future containment.
Indian boots on foreign soil?
The question in the coming days will also be about how far India would be expected to cooperate in the Sri Lankan probe, and from which side could such requests and expectations emanate. As is known, because of the LTTE terror-menace, the intelligence agencies and security forces in the two countries have formal and not-so-formal cooperation for years and decades now. Such cooperation also could be said to have stood the test of time. This time too, it is no exception, until thus far. There is nothing to suggest, it could be otherwise.
India is known to have cooperated with the rest of the world in terrorism-investigations, and its containment. Given that India has also been a long-term victim of cross-border terrorism of the ISI kind and also ‘religious terrorism’, both home-grown and otherwise, New Delhi is often seen as making more demands on the international community than the other way round.
There is thus, now, an occasion when the expectations are in the reverse. That is to say that going beyond its below-the-radar cooperation with neighbouring countries and others on terrorism investigations and information-sharing, India should come out in the open, to the vanguard of ‘global war on terror’.
It may be New Delhi’s call, which could begin with more visible participation in terror investigations of the Sri Lankan kind, but might go on to the revival of forgotten requests for India putting boots on terror-infested soil, as in Afghanistan in the immediate neighbourhood, to begin with. It is not unlikely that India may be guided by its experience, also in Sri Lanka, and of the IPKF kind.