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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2587

Islamic Extremism and Terrorist Cells

By Iromi Dharmawardhane

In recent years following the end of the war in 2009, Islamic religious organizations like
Thowheed Jamath — Wahhabist groups which preach religious extremism and intolerance — have taken root in the underdeveloped Eastern Province, and have gradually gained influence in other parts of Sri Lanka.

One of the main objectives of the Thowheed Jamath movement is the implementation of Sharia law for Muslims in the country. It also advocates, for example, compulsory wearing of the burka for Muslim women — a practice foreign to Sri Lanka. It is estimated that at present 10 percent of Sri Lankan Muslims adhere to the ideology of Thowheed Jamath.

The activities of the extremist movement have included the construction of mosques and madrassas in different parts of the country, which has created communal discord, while it has also been inciting religious intolerance. The emergence of such a movement is strongly opposed by groups like the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), meaning or ‘Buddhist Power.

Brigade,’ which also preaches extremism against the Muslim community, and has caused significant communal tensions in Sri Lanka.

Groups like Al Qaeda Central, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other jihadist elements have also been active in the country. This was evident from the plot to attack the US consulate in Chennai and Israeli consulate in Bengaluru in Southern India, involving two Sri Lankan Muslims:

Mohammed Zakir (Sakir) Hussain and Mohammad Hussain Mohammad Sulaiman, both of whom had conducted reconnaissance for the planned attacks.

Another Sri Lankan Muslim, Mohammed Salim, as well as two Tamils of Sri Lankan origin — Sivabalan and Arun Selvarajan — were subsequently arrested and charged in India for their involvement in the plot.
The [former] Sri Lankan government has expressed concern over the increasing presence of overseas Islamist terrorist cells in the country.

Sinhalese Backlash

On 12 June 2014, three Muslims assaulted a Buddhist monk in the Kalutara District of southwestern Sri Lanka, and the three were subsequently arrested.

Later, on 15 June 2014, stones were thrown at the monk by several other Muslims as he was walking past a mosque in Dharga Town in the Kalutara District.

These incidents, reportedly combined with the effects of a provocative speech made in the district on 15 June 2014 by the extremist Buddhist monk Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, the leader of BBS, triggered attacks by Sinhalese.

Sinhala-Buddhist mobs targeted shops and residences of Muslims in the coastal towns of Dharga Town, Aluthgama, and Beruwala in the Kalutara District during 15 and 17 June 2014.

In the attacks, four Muslims died, and over 60 individuals, including journalists, police personnel, and pedestrians, were seriously injured. At least 82 shops and 211 houses were destroyed or damaged during the three days of violence.

The [former] Sri Lankan government and police were heavily criticized for their failure to stop the violence, although a curfew was imposed on 16 June when the violence was at its peak, and about 10,000 police and Special Task Force (STF) personnel and an Army mobile team were deployed to the areas under attack.

The former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa also reaffirmed the right to religious freedom in the country and the government launched a special program supported by district authorities to bring the situation to normalcy.

.At present it seems the government must criminalize all acts related to the spread
of extremism and prejudice in the country, so that communal relations can be
restored between the Buddhists and Muslims.

Excerpts From Jan 2015 assessment –“Sri Lanka” Iromi Dharmawardhane Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis Volume 7, Issue 1 | January/February 2015

Iromi Dharmawardhane is a Senior Analyst with the International Centre for
Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at the S. Rajaratnam
School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU.

- Asian Tribune

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