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Sri Lanka’s IS link?

Updated April 25, 2019

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AS the dust clears from Easter Sunday’s appalling bloodbath in Sri Lanka, a grim reality is emerging: the militant Islamic State group — heretofore thought of as a mostly vanquished force in parts of Iraq and Syria — is still active and still capable of causing major havoc.

On Tuesday, IS, through its Amaq propaganda arm, claimed “Islamic State fighters” were responsible for the deadly bombings in Sri Lanka, in which several churches and hotels were targeted.

The death toll in the tragedy has crossed 350.

The Sri Lankan government had initially said that a local jihadi outfit was suspected, while adding that the perpetrators also had foreign help.

If the IS claim is true, it would confirm the government’s suspicion that local extremists acting under the instructions of the group were responsible for the carnage.

The admission of guilt by IS raises some disturbing questions. While the self-styled caliphate may have crumbled in the Middle East, it is clear that the terror group still retains its lethality and brutal capabilities.

The large geographical expanse straddling Iraq and Syria has been cleared of the militants, but the ‘soldiers’ of the ‘caliphate’, realising their loss of territory, have decided to escalate their acts of terror in all directions in keeping with their millenarian ideology.

Regardless of the modus operandi, it is clear that claims by the West, particularly the US, which leads a coalition to fight the terrorist group in Syria, were premature. President Donald Trump proudly announced that IS has been “defeated”; however, while territory may have been recaptured, the group’s operational capabilities appear intact.

And this is where the challenge lies for the world community: the militants of IS will reach out to any disaffected pockets of Muslims, particularly amongst the youth, across the world and try to take them on board to forward their brutal mission.

In fact, the group will seek out ungoverned spaces in states where it can re-establish its geographical foothold to carry out its operations.

That is why transnational efforts are needed to defeat IS and those of its ilk. Governments, ulema and civil society must all work together to thwart the challenge posed by the group.

Apart from confronting the militants on the battlefield, states must improve intelligence-gathering and intelligence-sharing capabilities to ensure that terrorists do not exploit gaps in the system.

Social media and the internet are ripe recruiting grounds for IS, and without compromising fundamental rights, cyberspace must be closely monitored to ensure IS is not using technology to sign up new recruits.

Ulema can help ensure that the pulpit is not being used to fan extremist tendencies, while ungoverned spaces — such as Afghanistan, Yemen, and parts of North Africa — must be watched to prevent IS from establishing a caliphate from where it can sow havoc anew.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2019