Morocco shared sensitive intelligence with Sri Lanka that helped Colombo identify the nine bombers and their handlers in the Islamic State, informed sources have indicated. The information was also shared with India as New Delhi and Morocco have a strong counter-terror cooperation.
This was done within 48 hours of the Easter Sunday attacks that killed nearly 360 people in the island nation. The Islamic State on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the horrific bombings, which also killed 10 Indians, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warning that the Indian Embassy was also a “possible target”.
Sri Lankan authorities have talked about “foreign links” of the perpetrators and have said that “foreign agencies” have shared useful information with them. Morocco, a North African country that follows a moderate strand of Islam, has one of the successful records of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization in the Islamic world.
In an interview in October, Abdelhak Khiame, Head of Morocco’s Central Bureau of Legal Investigation (BCIJ), said Moroccan security services dismantled “183 terrorist cells” in the country that were in the various stages of planning “361 devastating terrorist projects” in the kingdom.
More than 3,000 people, including 292 individuals with previous criminal record, have been arrested by Moroccan authorities over the past decade. India and Morocco have a strong and multi-dimensional agreement on counter-terrorism cooperation.
During a visit to New Delhi last year. Moroccan Justice Minister Mohamed Auajjar had said in an interview to the Economic Times that “Morocco has a well-established school of counter-terrorism, which is globally recognised. We have counter-terror cooperation including bilateral legal arrangements with major countries to fight terror. Given the expansion in ties with India and mutual interest, we decided to sign these treaties with Delhi, taking our counter-terror partnership to the next level”.
The Minister further said, echoing the views of King Mohammed VI. that Islam was against terrorism and “a wrong interpretation of jihad that is being propagated, instead of a jihad against poverty”.
The Minister said “Morocco’s de-radicalization initiatives have been lauded by the international community. We pursue a multi-dimensional counter-terror strategy that has three distinct stands: intelligence gathering, socio-economic reforms, and reform of religious schools”.
Morocco has shared important intelligence and counter-terrorism information in the past with “friendly countries” like France, Spain and Belgium and with its growing ties with India there have been 10 ministerial visits in the past year – there is enhanced cooperation on this front between New Delhi and Rabat. (IANS)
Sri Lanka’s president on Saturday outlawed two Islamist groups suspected to be behind recent suicide bombings on churches and hotels, while the wife and child of the suspected ringleader were wounded during a military raid in safe house, his family and police said.
The National Towheed Jamaat (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim were banned under his emergency powers, President Maithripala Sirisena said in a statement, nearly a week after the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250 people.
Authorities could not act earlier to ban the two little-known groups because the law required them to show firm evidence against them, officials said.
Police believe the suspected mastermind of the bombings, Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, led either the NTJ or a splinter group. Less is known about Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim, whose members are also believed to have played a role in the bombings. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Soldiers spread out
Nearly 10,000 soldiers have been deployed across the island to carry out searches and boost security since the bombings in three churches and four hotels, most of which were in Colombo. Security forces have detained 100 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, police said.
A gunbattle erupted on Friday evening during a raid on a safe house in Sainthamaruthu in Ampara district on the island’s east coast, killing at least 15 people, including three people with suicide vests and six children, a military spokesmkan said. The wounded included the wife and a daughter of Zahran, his family said.
“Yes, the wife and daughter were injured in the attack,” said Mohamed Hashim Mathaniya, sister of Zahran. “I was asked to come to identify them but I am not sure I can go,” she told Reuters from the town of Kattankudy in the east, where Zahran was originally based.
Zahran’s driver was detained in a separate raid, according to a police statement. Bomb-making materials, dozens of gelignite sticks and thousands of ball bearings were found in a search of a separate house in the same area, along with Islamic State banners and uniforms, the military said.
Zahran appeared in a video released by Islamic State days after the bombing, the only one showing his face while seven others were covered. In the video the men stand under a black Islamic State flag and declare their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Authorities have said there could be more attacks against religious centers.
Last Sunday’s bombings shattered the relative calm that the Buddhist-majority country has seen since a 26-year civil war with mostly Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists ended a decade ago. Sirisena and the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have faced strong criticism after it emerged that India had repeatedly given warnings of the possibility of attacks.
Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have said intelligence was not shared with them, exposing rifts at the top of the government and raising questions about its ability to deal with the security crisis. The national police chief had refused to accept Sirisena’s request to step down, two sources told Reuters on Saturday, a further embarrassment for the president.
The U.S. State Department said terrorist groups were continuing to plot attacks and cautioned its citizens against traveling to Sri Lanka. The department also ordered the departure of all school-age family members of U.S. government employees.
India and Britain have also warned their nationals to avoid traveling to Sri Lanka. The security forces’ response has included raids on mosques and homes of people in the town of Negombo, where scores died in the bombing of a church.
Police said on Friday that they were trying to track down 140 people they thought had links to Islamic State. The president said some of the country’s youth had been involved with the group since 2013 and that there were drug-trafficking links.
Warning of retaliation
Muslims were urged to pray at home on Friday after the State Intelligence Services warned of possible car bomb attacks, amid fears of retaliatory violence. Many have fled their homes amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps.
The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, told reporters he had seen an internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and said there would be no Catholic Masses celebrated anywhere on the island this Sunday.