Sri Lankan authorities Monday blamed a little-known Islamist group called National Thowfeek Jamaath (NTJ) for a series of coordinated attacks targeting churches and luxury hotels across the country that killed 290 and injured about 500 others.
NTJ has not claimed responsibility for the eight bombings, but Sri Lankan officials say the main blasts Sunday were carried out by seven suicide bombers of the group, with possible outside help of which authorities have not released details pending an ongoing investigation.
Who is NTJ?
NTJ is believed to have started at least three years ago in eastern Sri Lanka as an offshoot of Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ), another Islamist group known for its extremist ideology and the indoctrination of children.
SLTJ has attempted to attract conservative Muslims in Sri Lanka for years by speaking out about Buddhist hard-liners and opposing the country’s reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.
SLTJ’s leader, Abdul Razik, was arrested in November 2016 on charges of inciting religious extremism and hate speech during a protest in the majority-Muslim suburb of Maligawatte.
Very little is known about NTJ’s membership, but its size is likely modest compared to SLTJ, according to Michael Kugelman, deputy director for South Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center.
Kugelman said the group’s main activities in the past months have consisted of targeting Buddhist statues as the country’s Buddhists feuded with Muslims. If NTJ was behind Sunday’s attacks on Christians and foreigners, it would seem to indicate the group wants to expand further, experts say.
“A broader goal of this shadowy group may be to instill terror — just like al-Qaida and ISIS — the groups that NJT appears to model itself on,” Kugelman told VOA.
In March 2017, local media reported NTJ was involved in a clash in the predominantly Muslim Karrankudt region, which resulted in three injuries.
During anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka last year, the NTJ used social media to highlight discrimination against Muslims in the country, such as setting up Buddhist symbols in the northeast where no Buddhists lived.
Kugelman said the coordinated attacks Sunday, with their success in inflicting heavy casualties, show likely connections to a larger terrorist organization.
“These connections are likely international, not domestic. I don’t know of any internal group in Sri Lanka that would have the capacity to pull off an attack like the one we saw on Sunday. So, there must have been help from elsewhere in South Asia or beyond,” he said.
Seven suicide attacks
Sri Lankan Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said at a press conference Monday that all seven bombers wore explosive suicide vests. He said they were Sri Lankan citizens with memberships in NTJ, and likely received outside support.
“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne told reporters. “There must be a wider international network behind it.”
Experts say NTJ was likely inspired by Islamic State, which has unleashed deadly attacks in the past against churches and popular tourist destinations in different countries.
Experts warn that many Sri Lankans who left to fight in Syria will likely return home and join groups like NTJ.
It is unclear how many Sri Lankans have joined the Syrian war over the years, but officials in 2016 said at least 32 citizens were known to have joined IS.
In 2015, IS news agency Amaq released a video — confirmed by Sri Lankan local news — that claimed a Sri Lankan NTJ member called Abu Shuraih Sailani was killed during an airstrike in Syria.
Al-Qaida or Islamic State?
Bruce Hoffman, senior counterterrorism expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA the Easter attacks resemble IS actions more than attacks conducted by al-Qaida.
“I think there is less reason to say that it’s al-Qaida than ISIS,” Hoffman said, using an acronym for the militant group. “Al-Qaida, to my knowledge, has not attacked churches — at least not recently — whereas ISIS has engaged in attacks against Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and many other places.”
Hoffman said NTJ and other Islamists are likely able to recruit members by exploiting the anger of the Muslim minority, which has found itself isolated by the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority.
“They have generally been the subject of complete exclusion, and their grievances have never really been addressed for at least two decades,” Hoffman said. “The seeds of discontent, disenfranchisement and alienation run very deep, and may have made certain extremist members of the Muslim community suitable to malign outside influences.”
Sri Lanka has a population of about 21 million, with Tamil-speaking Muslims making up about 9.7%. From 1983 to 2009, the country’s Tamil and Sinhalese communities were engaged in civil war. (VOA)
Chinese government has not left anybody in doubt, about it’s ambitious target of dominating the world at any cost. Chinese government has been suppressing freedom of speech in China, taking away the rights of citizens of Hong Kong in authoritarian manner and aggressively occupying the territory of neighbours such as Tibet and part of Indian territory, which it occupied after 1962 Indo Chinese war. China is now claiming Indian province Arunachal Pradesh as it’s own and aggressively claiming territorial right in South China Sea and Senkaku island. Chinese government says that Taiwan is part of it’s territory and objects to any recognition given to Taiwan by any other country.
Further, China is trying to enforce it’s domination over small and weak nearby countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and others, by extending loans, which these countries cannot afford to repay in the foreseeable future.
Viewing China’s methods and targets, one does not find much of difference between today’s Chinese government and Hitler’s Germany. Several countries in the world are gradually realizing that checking China’s ambition is as necessary, as checking Hitler’s ambition that caused World War II.
However, the supporters of China claim that US government too should be accused of trying to dominate the world and it has sent troops to several countries such as Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and others to enforce it’s domination. There is an element of truth in this, as American government seem to think that it has the duty to police the world.
In any case, on careful analysis of the scenario and judiciously comparing the domination desire of China and USA, one cannot but see a subtle difference between both these countries.
While China believes in ruthless elimination of opponents both inside and outside China (just like the way Hitler did) and wants to occupy territories of other countries by coercion or force , US does not indulge in such acts of suppression of human rights or occupying territory of other countries.
US has not concealed it’s desire that freedom of speech and democratic procedures should prevail in all regions in the world. On many occasions , US has fought against totalitarian regimes, religious extremists and terrorist groups and has paid a high price by losing American lives.
USA may have the ambition to dominate the world and ensure it’s authority as super power, but it has no ambition of territorial expansions that China has.
All said and done, if the world were to choose between USA and China, it would inevitably come to the conclusion that world domination by USA is a lesser evil than the world domination by China.
Unlike China, the citizens of USA have the right to criticise the decisions of the government, launch protests against human rights violation, if any and exercise their franchise once in four years to change the party in power, if it would act against the wishes of the people. By such process, the conscience of USA largely remain in tact and US government is vulnerable to the pressure of public opinion, both in USA and other parts of the world.
On the other hand, China has totalitarian regime and no citizen can survive in China if he would criticise the Chinese President or question the decision of the Chinese government. To this extent, it is dictatorial regime in China, which can be termed as uncivilized form of governance.
The fact is that USA has been remaining as super power in the world for several decades now and the world has not become worse due to the dominating power of USA. Of course, there have been criticism against US government by some section of world opinion but most of such critics belong to religious extremist groups and motivated leftist (communist) forces , whose economic and administrative policies have totally failed to deliver the goods.
Achieving super power status by China and establishing it’s authority in large parts of the world with least consideration for value systems and sentiments of people, is the worst thing that can happen to the world civilization.
In recent years, the number of women embarking on solo adventures has skyrocketed — a fact corroborated by the data of many travel companies — and in many cases, to less-frequented destinations. Indeed, navigating new cities and learning to handle hustlers without a companion or ‘safety in numbers’ can be incredibly empowering for women. Right off the bat, travelling alone is the ultimate confidence boost and the freedom to plan ones own travel itinerary without having to accommodate anyone else is liberating.
For first-timers, travelling alone can seem like a daunting prospect, but with some research, planning and common sense, it could become a life-changing experience. While the most popular destinations for solo female travellers are in Europe, there are quite a number of destinations in Asia that are especially ideal for women travellers given that you’re properly prepared. Here are top picks by ONYX Hospitality Group of unique destinations in Asia for women to explore solo.
Colombo and Kandy, Sri Lanka
Spend a few days in Colombo, a busy and vibrant port city, to experience the laid-back charm of the historical era combined with the liveliness of a modern city. Those looking for a more peaceful environment can head for Kandy. Once the capital of the ancient kings, Kandy remains the country’s most significant cultural and religious centre. Visit the tea plantations, pray at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth relic and go trekking into the misty hills where you can take a deep breath and reconnect with yourself and nature.
Famously dubbed as the island of contrasts, Phuket is a great destination for solo female travellers looking to have the best of both worlds. From relaxing, feet-in-the-sand detox and laid-back beachside cafes, to adrenaline-fuelled activities and vibrant nightlife, this tropical paradise has it all. Start by exploring the spectacular stretch of gorgeous beaches along the island’s West coast where time goes slow and sunshine seems to last forever, before switching it up with a tuk tuk ride to the east coast for some cafe-hopping and bar-crawling with the local crowds.
Travelling around Phuket is surprisingly easy. You can either hop on a tuk tuk, grab a taxi or even rent a motorbike and helmet and zoom down the hills with the view of the turquoise sea stretching out before you.
Possibly one of the most beautiful beaches in Phuket, Kata is a paradise waiting for people to visit and fall in love. White sand, blue sea and endless activities are just a few of the things that make Kata beach so special. Meanwhile, a walk through the local area can add a lively touch of Thai culture to any holiday.
Known as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang is a truly fascinating destination with its colourful five-foot-ways, mouth-watering street food, lush hiking trails and sandy beaches. Declared a UNESCO world cultural heritage site, George Town, the island’s cultural and urban hub, is brimming with architectural marvels from the British colonial period, timeworn shophouses, modern cafes and temples. Feast on local delicacies such as Assam Laksa or Char Kway Teow from hawker stands before walking the guilt off while exploring the world-famous mural trails.
Feeling overwhelmed by the paddling trishaws and fuming fragrant? One only needs to take a short bus ride away from town for a stroll along the beaches, a visit to the Tropical Spice Garden or the picturesque Penang Hill. (IANS)
Sri Lanka’s Attorney General’s Department has held an event in capital Colombo to raise funds for children affected by the Easter Sunday attacks in April, which claimed 250 lives. Sri Lanka.
Speaking at the event on Saturday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that all those involved in the attacks had been killed or apprehended and the government was drafting new legislations against extremists and terrorists, Xinhua news agency reported.