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Attacks show terrorism's growing reach

By Aravind Vidyadharan | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-04-30 08:42
Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

The senseless savagery of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, with its death toll of more than 250 and over 500 injured, has horrified the collective consciousness of the world.

The killings also drive home the point that nobody should underestimate the reach and sophistication of the global terror networks.

While a majority of the victims were Sri Lankans, visitors from a number of countries also died in the carnage.

After nearly three decades of civil war that ended about 10 years ago, the island nation was on a path of peaceful socioeconomic development. This had led to a rise in tourist numbers as well.

The masterminds behind the series of bombings on April 21 evidently took advantage of a country that had relaxed years of heightened security measures that existed during the protracted civil war. The bombings also show the perpetrators of terror are always on the lookout for relatively soft targets worldwide.

On April 23, the group Islamic State, which is in retreat from its main killing fields in the Middle East, claimed responsibility for bombings at the churches and hotels. Later, it claimed responsibility for exchanging gunfire with Sri Lankan police. The group National Thowheed Jamath, banned by the Sri Lanka government on April 27 together with Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem, had in recent months attempted to sow discord in the country.

The killings reinforce the chilling specter of a global terror network that has already spread its tentacles deeply across the South Asian country without the knowledge of its intelligence agencies, which seems supported by the recent findings of explosives and weaponry in police searches.

This is also evident from the low-key reaction and lack of alarm of the Sri Lankan government and its security services to credible warnings it received from overseas intelligence agencies about possible terrorist acts on the island. Obviously, the domestic security agencies felt all the local patrons of terror were under its watchful eyes.

Though the IS had claimed responsibility for the bombings, this does not shed any clear light on either the logistics or local and international networks that plotted and executed this mayhem.

It will probably take months, if not years, to track down all the shadowy actors and organizations that finance and motivate people enough to blow themselves up for a seemingly senseless cause.

These terror networks have for decades taken advantage of the extreme difficulty that any government faces in fighting an elusive enemy that pulls the strings from some remote overseas location.

If there is no globally coordinated emphatic response to such violent attacks-which are also by nature a series of probing attacks to gauge the response of governments and organizations like the United Nations and other international agencies-these terrorists will be emboldened enough to spread their networks to more countries.

As a permanent member of the UN and a major player on the world stage, China has a clear role to play in helping to formulate the response to such acts of terror.

As international exchanges spread to more countries, China may find itself called upon to play a proactive role in countering such terrorist activities by working closely with countries such as Sri Lanka as well as with the UN and other international agencies to fight terrorism in South Asia and beyond.

The author is a Hong Kong-based journalist. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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