The recent raids have disclosed that extremism is a much deeper and ingrained problem in Sri Lanka than most had realized.
To address this problem, counterterrorism authorities in Sri Lanka need to explore ways to dissuade young people from joining radical groups and deradicalize those who have already succumbed to extremist ideology.
Sirisena has taken a string of counter-terrorism measures, including requesting the resignation of Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Police Chief Pujith Jayasundara and calling for a complete security overhaul. He has also ordered nationwide raids where security forces have arrested about 70 people, including the NTJ’s second-in-command, and are looking for more suspects linked to the bombings.
The raids have uncovered bomb-making equipment, an Islamic State flag, and cache of explosives. The damage control, however, is unlikely to quell public anger that the country’s security sector failed to prevent or, at the least, minimize the scale of the attacks.
Some have also argued that the exportation of Wahhabism in Sri Lanka, including many Muslims studying in the Middle East, may have a direct link to the formation of enclaves and perhaps radicalization. Pushed out of their caliphate, ISIS is trying to make its presence felt elsewhere — in this instance, by exploiting a largely amateurish group that nonetheless proved capable of inflicting horrific mass casualty violence.
Hashim was one of the two suicide bombers in the Shangri-La hotel attack, a rather unusual move by a terrorist group’s leader.
The Sri Lankan authorities could look at some of the successful deradicalization programs in other countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia.
In Singapore, the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) helps detained terrorists to counter their ideological misconceptions through rigorous counselling sessions.
For years, the country’s political elite has deliberately ignored the extremist problem to prevent isolating the Muslim community who play a role in deciding the outcome of elections. While the Muslim population is concentrated in coastal areas such as Ampara, the Sinhalese communities are dispersed across different provinces.
Most Muslims, who usually vote as a bloc, voted for Sirisena in the 2015 Presidential elections.