How RAW and SIS had worked together to prevent the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka

Contrary to the bizarre story spun by Maulana in the Channel 4 documentary, Indian intelligence agencies, mainly RAW, played a pivotal role in monitoring IS movements in Sri Lanka. 

Dr. Punsara Amarasinghe Sep 07, 2023
Easter terrorist attack in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019

The recent video documentary released by Channel 4 in the UK is like an enticing tale by a good storyteller that is all sound and fury signifying nothing. It is a basic principle in media ethics that one should attribute the sources of information to validate the authenticity of the story. As a matter of fact, the theory developed by Channel 4 in the UK suggesting that Sri Lanka’s Easter attacks were carried out as a clandestine operation to bring former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to power contains no credible sources, but only a whistle-blower's testimony. It further insinuates the links that allegedly existed between the Rajapaksa family and National Tawhid Jammath as a dirty ploy to trigger an ethnic rift with ulterior political motives in Sri Lanka. 

The incredible revelation in Channel 4’s documentary comes from an asylum seeker called “Asad Maulana”, who currently resides in Switzerland, and whose patchy story 'reveals' the allegedly dubious role of RAW ( India's external; intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing ) in staging the Easter massacre along with Sri Lankan security forces to polarize an already divided  Sri Lankan society which would then seek the return of the Rajapaksa family to power. 

Such a wild charge based on no evidence can be a fascinating story for those who dwell in conspiracy theories as Channel 4 video anchored on Maulana’s testimony sought to do. But, in reality, Maulana’s story is far from the truth. He claims that he set up a meeting between a senior military intelligence officer, Suresh Salley, and IS-affiliated attackers to hatch a plot to create chaos in Sri Lanka to facilitate Rajapakasa’s return. Maulana states in the documentary: "The meeting finished, Suresh Salley came to me and told the Rajapaksa’s need an unsafe situation in Sri Lanka; that’s the only way for Gotabaya to become president” (sic). Furthermore, Maulana describes himself as an ally of Rajapkasa’s inner circle for nearly twenty years, but his conspiracy theory does not provide the slightest clue on the evidence he had gathered in that position. However, Maulana’s dubious identity has been revealed by Prof.Rohan Gunarathne as a person from Zaharan Hashim  (the chief perpetrator of the Easter attacks) inner network, who later fled to Switzerland.

Intelligence collaboration 

The allegations against RAW are more tenuous as they lie beyond reality. The intelligence sharing between RAW and Sri Lanka's SIS (State Intelligence Service ) has remained solid in the aftermath of the country's civil war, especially the information exchanged about the spread of Islamic extremism in south India. Since the first reported case of IS fighters in Sri Lanka in 2015, Indian intelligence services have been vigilant on the possible contacts between Islamic jihadist cells in south India and Sri Lanka. In the year 2016, India's Intelligence Bureau monitored a Sri Lankan software engineer named Addhil AX, who propagated IS ideology on online platforms and was involved in inspiring south Indian IS activists to attack a Jewish synagogue in Ahmedabad. There was a stir in the Indian intelligence circles regarding Sri Lankan connections with IS cells and fellow Islamic jihadi groups in south India. In particular, the robust development of IS ideology in the state of Kerala was worrying enough for RAW and IB to have a rapport with Sri Lankan intelligence as they suspected a strong affinity between the extremist networks of the two states. This conjecture found some validity after authorities found how a youth named Yiyas Aboobacker in Palakkad in Kerala was inspired to become a jihadist after watching the online propaganda of Zaharan Hashim. 

A few months prior to the Easter attacks, Indian intelligence raided some IS sites in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This discovery revealed many contacts between Zaharan Hashim and IS followers in south India. Contrary to the bizarre story spun by Maulana in the Channel 4 documentary, Indian intelligence agencies, mainly RAW, played a pivotal role in monitoring IS movements in Sri Lanka. On the 4th of April, just two weeks before the Easter attacks, Indian intelligence alerted Nilanatha Jayewardene, the chief of SIS, about the impending attacks and a RAW representative in Colombo confirmed that the information was indeed received by the SIS chief. Meanwhile, the senior DIG Latheef, commandant of the STF (Special Task Force), communicated with two diplomats from the Indian High Commission of Colombo regarding the security arrangements for the Indian High Commission and India House in response to the communication from RAW warning of an attack. 

All in all, Indian intelligence agencies were aware of the Easter attack planning, and their intelligence sharing with Sri Lankan intelligence was intended to forestall the terrorist attack's brutal execution, but their motives were thwarted due to the sheer apathy of the then government of Sri Lanka. The Easter carnage on the 21 April 2019 in Sri Lanka was not a failure of the intelligence services, but an operational failure that opened up avenues for a dozen conspiracy theories.   

Remaining in denial  

The Channel 4 documentary does no justice to those who lost their lives in the Easter attacks or their near and dear ones as the story constitutes a mere figment of imagination without any shred of evidence. It may be right to criticise the Rajapaksa family and their nepotistic policies during the height of their power, but the Channel 4 documentary, which makes Rajapaksa a conspirator of the Easter attack, is a despicable attempt to deny the existence of  IS ideology in Sri Lanka. 

Above all, it is a dishonor to the officers of both Indian and Sri Lankan intelligence who worked tirelessly in uncovering the Islamic jihadist movements in the subcontinent.  

(The author is a post-doctoral researcher affiliated with the Institute of Law, Politics and Development at Scuola Superiore Sant Anna, Pisa, Italy. Views are personal. He can be contacted at )

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