On April 4 ,Indian security agencies had shared specific intelligence inputs with Sri Lanka that NJT (National Thoweeth Jamaat) could target several churches and Indian High Commission in Colombo. Indian intel was based on interrogation of an ISIS suspect in their custody,who revealed that he had trained a Lankan operative.
On April 7 ,Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi alleged that India was preparing to attack Pakistan between April 16-20. He hinted that a new mishap could be staged to justify the offensive and raise diplomatic pressure on Pakistan,who went to the extent of briefing the P-5 nations regarding this imminent threat from India . India rubbished the Pakistani claim the very next day.
On April 11, a Confidential Memo from the Police Commissioner of Colombo was circulated which not only named the group believed to be planning the attack, NJT, but also listed the individual members, along with their addresses and phone numbers.
Despite all this intel at their disposal and primary surveillance in place , the Lankans failed to halt these local terrorists in their tracks who ended up causing massive blasts at three churches and four hotels on April 21 . Miraculously,Indian High Commission in Colombo was not targeted,perhaps because of heavy security preparedness ,or spared deliberately because of some other reason .
These turn of events cant be fortuitous . India had given very specific inputs . Lanka had obviously taken them seriously.Lanka and Pakistan have had very close intel and military cooperation since 2008 (starting with 2003). Pakistan had sold sophisticated weaponry worth $100 million to Colombo ,and had sent ISI officials to coordinate and train Lankan officers during the decisive phase of Eelam War .PAF had even coordinated with the Sri Lanka Air Force in bombing certain LTTE targets .Since then ISI has maintained local influence among Sri Lankan Muslim groups. Annihilation of LTTE had allowed working space to these groups and ISI . The vital info must have reached the ISI through their Lankan counterparts (or maybe directly from their ground handlers and sources ) ,and within 3 days ,the Pakistani government was seized with panic. If Indian High Commission came under attack ,India might get very pissed off . And an angry India now strikes back.Especially during the election season . Pakistan could ill afford such a doomsday scenario.
One can understand Pakistan is wary of the new normal that has been established in the Indo-Pak relations given the Surgical Strikes and Balakot . Three cross border operations in five years have established India’s aggressive and decisive intent in tackling the jihadi threat . Pakistan purchased peace after Balakot by releasing Abhinandan . But it realises it sits on a tinderbox. A state of uneasy peace means war is just a terror attack away. Bombing of the Indian High Commission was bad news for India,Lanka as well as Pakistan .
ISI has managed to create an elaborate terror infrastructure in the subcontinent over the years. From Nepal to Bangladesh ,Maldives and Sri Lanka, ISI has set up many sleeper cells and coordinates with myriad of extremist organisations like SIMI,PFI,Jamait-e-Islami, Harkut-ul-Jihad-Islami,JMB,NTJ,JMI and others . ISI maintains influence through smuggling of counterfeit currency, drugs and weapons. Then there is the dangerous presence of many Al Qaeda and IS-returned jihadis ,who are combustible material, ready to cause mayhem anytime , anywhere. All these are parts of the jihadi ecosystem which exists in the subcontinent . ISI utilises them to further its objectives. There is always a possibility of these elements going rogue (extreme radicalisation) and utilising this infrastructure and capability in service of global jihad .
It is quite possible that ISI itself commissioned the attack on Indian High Commission before Pulwama,but tried to block it in the post-Balakot atmosphere ,yet was unable to completely restrain these recalcitrant recruits . But what seems likely is that ISI had received some information either from Lankan intelligence or from its own ground handlers or jihadi groups themselves regarding the imminent blasts . A planned attack on Indian High Commission in Colombo,or any strategic interests in Tamil Nadu would have been considered by India as an act of war. Maybe some of the jihadis were were hired or influenced by non state actors to carry out these ghastly attacks.
This was a very intricately planned attack.It could not have been managed by local radical Mullahs .The selection of targets, planning and coordination involved between a large crew of jihadis,sophisticated explosive devises and maximum impact execution by suicide bombers point towards international hands . That famous churches and five star hotels were chosen as targets signify that the blasts were aimed at the West. 38 foreigners lost their lives on the Easter Day. It was a great propaganda victory for the jihadis.
And yet there are multiple problems with the ISIS claims. .Do they have any capability to strike in the far off Sri Lanka,esp given their recent drubbings in the Middle East ? Do they have enough resources or readiness to strike ? Or was this an attack by a franchise,NTJ, being run by ISIS alumni ? There are reports that the chief conspirator visited Pakistan thrice in 2018. Which makes him ‘one of Pak’s own’ boy.
Such an intricately planned attack must have required atleast six months of preparation. ISIS waited two full days after the blasts to claim responsibility.No one else,certainly not NTJ ,was coming forward to take credit. ISIS is in deperate need for a win ,and now it has claimed Colombo as its revenge for Christurch Mosque attack which happened on March 15th. Perhaps the bombings materialised at just the right time to appropriate them as answers to Christchurch.
If ISI sanctioned these attacks to help pro-China Rajapakse faction, leaving out IHC might have been a good move.Rajapakse lost last time because Muslims and Christians had voted against his aggressive Sinhala Nationalism. The Colombo blasts have bolstered his credentials as a strong ,decisive leader who not just liquidated LTTE,but also kept the country largely free of such terror activities,in contrast to the presently paralysed administration of Sirisena and Wickramsinghe.
The blasts have exposed the hollowness of Sirisena administration .The President is in charge of Defence and Internal security.PM Ranil Wickramsinghe was not even aware of the intel inputs. Now even the President has denied being aware of intel reports . NTJ has links with extremist Islamist groups in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.If Colombo can be pulverised by this well-oiled jihadi ecosystem, how safe are Chennai,Tutikorin,Kalapakkam or Koodnakulam ?