As the dust settles on the jihadi terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people, mostly Christian worshippers, on Easter Sunday last month, one of the most painful details emerging is that, in contrast to most terrorist attacks, the government received clear and precise warnings well in advance. The New York Times reports that the chief of Sri Lanka’s intelligence warned the police chief that, “Sri Lanka based Zahran Hashmi of National Thowheeth Jama’ath and his associates are planning to carry out a suicide terrorist attack in Sri Lanka shortly.” Specific warnings were issued about attacks on churches as well as the names and addresses of those suspected in the attack. Law enforcement officials rarely get better intelligence than that.
We still don’t know why Sri Lankan security forces did not act on this detailed warning. Bureaucratic incompetence and political rivalries are possible explanations. Another, ironically, is that Sri Lanka did not act on this terrorism warning because it was too focused on other terrorism problems.
Indeed, Sri Lanka has long focused on a terrorism problem—just not the one that emerged on Easter. For decades, the country’s minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindus, rebelled against the Sinhalese Buddhist-dominated government; over 100,000 people died in a civil war that did not end until 2009. The Tamils used terrorism extensively in the conflict and were early and avid users of suicide bombing, among other tactics. Buddhist nationalists remained aggressive and even sought to destroy ancient mosques. But Muslim-Christian violence seemed a minor issue at best.