Security Situation in Sri Lanka: A Risk Review
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Security Situation in Sri Lanka: A Risk Review

Security Situation in Sri Lanka: A Risk Review


Heightened security has been observed across Sri Lanka during the days following the Easter bombings across the island which comprised of eight explosions during the early hours of April 21. In the week following the arrest, more than 70 individuals have been arrested during security raids across the country. During the overnight hours of April 26-27 and throughout April 27, significant security operations transpired resulting in clashes between security forces and suspected militants in Sri Lanka’s Ampara district in addition to confiscation of military-grade explosives, explosive-making material and continued reports of arrests of suspected individuals. 

IS claim of the Kamunai incident

IS claim of the Kamunai incident

The Islamic State (IS) subsequently claimed the attack on April 28, making it the second claim of attack in less than a week in the island nation. 

Overview of Arrests till April 27

Overview of Arrests till April 27
• During the overnight hours of 26-27, reports indicated that at least three suspected suicide bombers detonated their ordnance during the security raid in Kalmunei’sSaindamarudu area. Additional casualties amidst the security operations were also reported, including women and children. IS subsequently released a video of the assailants during its official claim.

• Furthermore, explosive-making material and IS linked literature were reportedly recovered by security forces from the location. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the locale was possibly used as an explosive-assembly installation by the outfit and at least two suspected militants are absconding from the scene of the attack at the time of writing.

• Following the raid, reports indicate the imposition of an extended daily curfew in the eastern cities of Kalmunai, Chavalakade, and Samanthurai from 2045 hrs - 0400 hrs (local time).

• Additionally, three individuals were reportedly arrested in the vicinity of Wellawata railway station in Colombo and one individual from Puwarasankulama in Sri Lanka’s Northern Central Province. The arrest in Wellawatte was made alongside confiscation of one kilogram of C4 (military grade) explosives. The arrestees were reportedly residents of the Wellawateneighbourhood.

• Further reports on April 27 suggest the arrest of an individual in possession of 250 detonators and 51 gelignite sticks in the Trincomalee area of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province.

• Additionally, a Colombo Municipal Councillor, NoordeenMohommadThadjudeen has reportedly been taken into police custody as of April 27 owing to recovery of 46 swords from a mosque in the Slave Island area of Colombo. Unconfirmed reports indicate that 15 machetes and 25 military uniforms were also found alongside the seized swords. However, the linkages between the two incidents, and the serial bombings, if any, remains to be verified at the time of writing.

Moreover, security personnel associated with the Sri Lankan Bomb Disposal Team reportedly conducted a controlled explosion outside the Kandana police station in the Kandana city of Sri Lanka’s Western Province during the early morning hours of April 27. The event followed reported observance of a suspicious package at the location. No explosive material was reportedly retrieved from the package in Kandana.

Foreign office advisories in view of the security situation in Sri Lanka

Meanwhile, the US Embassy has issued an advisory suggesting its citizens reconsider travel to Sri Lanka due to terrorism. On April 26, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of school-age family members of U.S. government employees in kindergarten through 12th grade. The Embassy and all American installations in the country remained closed to public till May 3 as per the official source. The UK FCO advises its citizens against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka at the time of writing. However, the same is not applicable to flights transiting via Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport for passengers intending to remain within airport premises during transit.

Moreover, reports quoting the government agencies have indicated schools and universities will be operational from May 6 onwards. Reports also indicate that the Department of Buddhist Affairs must refrain from conducting Sunday Dhamma School until schools are once again officially declared open. The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has canceled all Sunday Masses until further notice following the attack.

Finally, the Bandaranaike International Airport reportedly on high alert since the attack had no recorded disruptions to operations at the time of writing. Reports indicate a resumption of public transport operability via railways and buses in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing air travel within Sri Lanka via domestic airports remains suspended for security reasons.

Potential for continued security threat: An Assessment

The incident comes amidst the heightened security measures, including security raids and arrests following the Easter bombings across Sri Lanka on April 21 in which more than 250 people, including foreign nationals, were reportedly killed. In this context, the suicide bombing of April 26-27 remains considerably notable as it follows immediately after the April 21 attacks thus highlighting the pervasive security threat. More so in the backdrop of reports of the leader of the National Tawheed Jamaat (NTJ), Zahran Hashim being killed in the aforementioned attacks. Moreover, if the reports on the size of the cache recovered, coupled with the type of explosive (C4) albeit in a separate incident, if confirmed, highlights the continued operational capabilities of the group and the underlying security threat in the island country. This view is further bolstered by the fact that the allied mastermind and principal bomb maker continues to remain at large, leaving some scope for additional attacks over the coming weeks.

Given the pattern of arrests, the latest security raid in the Eastern Province, coupled with the discovery of an alleged IS training camp in Wanathawilluwa along the western coast in January, all combined is indicative of the widely decentralized network of operations established by the militant group across the country. This further substantiates the prevailing security threat as well as the operational acumen of the militant group. The widely dispersed network is thus difficult to intercept and mitigate as compared to a closely clustered formation.

In case of the Kalmunai incident, given the remote location (roughly 208 mi/335 km) from Colombo, it remains likely that the group was using the facility as a staging area with the threat of additional attacks, though not imminent, yet cannot be completely ruled out. This view is further bolstered by the fact that the curfew on the Eastern Province locale was extended beyond the announced hours following the incident and continues to be enforced as on April 29. With this in mind, given that at least two of the suspected militants remain absconding, coupled with a host of arrests, including those on April 30, continued security operations aimed at obtaining operational intelligence remains likely to continue. This, in turn, is expected to result in additional security raids and potential arrests over the coming hours and days.

Impact on establishment and transportation facilities

The announcement of the resumption of schools and universities alongside the restoration of regular transportation is indicative of the attempts by the government to indicate a sense of normalcy. The suspension of operations of the religious institutions until further notice is likely aimed at preventing any untoward incident, militancy related or communal which may further hamper the security situation.

Additionally, the announcement of the resumption of school and university operations alongside the restoration of regular transportation as well as lifted the temporary ban on social media platforms on April 30. This is indicative of the attempts by the government to indicate a sense of normalcy.

Potential Impact on Socio-Ethnic Relations

While heightened security measures would remain likely across the country, operations are likely to be more intensive in the Eastern Province as well as parts of the Northern Province. While the likelihood of localized clashes targeting the Muslim minority groups and installations including religious places and businesses thought less probably but cannot be completely ruled out keeping in mind past precedence of anti-Muslim riots in various parts of the Ampara district of the Eastern Province in February 2018.

This risk review is provided by GRID91a security risk management company.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.