At first, they were nameless. “Nine suicide bombers,” is all authorities would reveal. In a little over a week, the police identified each of them and their stories began coming out. Now, a month after Sri Lanka’s savage Easter attacks, a messy web of disgruntled radicals has emerged, throwing up troubling hints of how readily rage can court terror.
Zahran Hashim, 33, radical preacher and alleged ringleader, found little acceptance in his hometown Kattankudy, in eastern Batticaloa. Mosques in the predominantly Muslim town rejected him outright. Their members even complained to authorities, before he went absconding in 2017 after a clash with a fellow priest who challenged his interpretation of Islam.
But soon, a team of young Muslim men — and one woman — from other, mostly Sinhala-majority, areas eagerly joined him on his Easter mission to carry out a suicide attack on churches and high-end hotels in and around Colombo and Batticaloa. All nine bombers were in their 20s and 30s.
Radicalised at different times, for different reasons, and in varying measure, they encountered Hashim on social media or in person. In him, they saw a mentor who could give their lives purpose and direction. With time and interaction, their shared “cause” acquired considerable weight — enough for them to pledge their lives for it.
Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), leading the probe, have traced all nine to two jihadist organisations — National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ), led by Hashim, and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI), a less formal group of youth who had met on social media.