June 19, 2019

Easter Bombings in Sri Lanka: Causes and Consequences

  • Prabha Rao Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, Former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India

    Prabha Rao
    Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, Former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India

The Easter Sunday Sri Lanka Bombings (21 April, 2019) were the largest and most devastating terrorist attacks since 9/11. With the Sri Lankan presidential poll likely to be held in late 2019 and PM Modi’s foreign policy thrust on ‘Neighbourhood First’, the attacks are a matter of considerable significance for Sri Lanka and India. Prabha Rao, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, and former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GOI, will help us unwrap what the Easter blasts mean for Sri Lanka, India and the global community.

Context

The Easter Bombings remain the biggest terrorist incident since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. The death toll rose to 290 in the coordinated attacks at churches and luxury hotels, which the government said had been carried out by seven suicide bombers. The assaults targeted foreign tourists and Christians, marking a shift from the violence that fueled a three-decade civil war on the Indian Ocean island.


On April 9th, 12 days before the attack, the Government of India sent a circular to the head of Sri Lankan Intelligence with the exact date of the  attack, the names of the bombers as well as explicit mention of St. Anthony’s Church, one of the targeted sites. In spite of this, the Sri Lankan security forces chose not to act upon it. Incidentally, President Sirisena, despite being warned about such an attack, took it a lot more lightly than he should have and instead was in Singapore on leave.

Focus areas of discussion

  • Why were India’s warnings taken so lightly by the Sri Lankans?
  • Was this an intelligence failure or a failure of acting on credible intelligence?
  • What could be the reasons for targeting Sri Lankan Christians?
  • Were the attacks perhaps a retaliation and response to President Trump’s announcement on December 19th of the end of the ISIS, immediately after which there were a series of attacks in Libya and the Maghreb region perpetrated by the ISIS to prove their continued prevalence?
  • What national security measures must India take?
  • What measures must India to take to guard against a similar institutional carelessness in matters of national security?

 

Experts

Prabha Rao
Prabha Rao
Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, Former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India