Assessment of Ongoing Security Situation in Sri Lanka between April 21-27
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, approximately 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.
Overview of Arrests between April 26-27
- During the overnight hours of 26-27, reports indicated that at least four suspected suicide bombers detonated their ordnance during the security raid in Kalmunei’s Saindamarudu area. Additional casualties amidst the security operations were also reported, including women and children. However, the identities of those killed remains to be ascertained at the time of writing.
- Furthermore, explosive making material and Islamic State (IS) linked literature from the scene of the incident 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 IS linked group 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 Wellawate neighbourhood.
- 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, Noordeen Mohommad Thadjudeen 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.
Locations of confirmed arms recovery in Sri Lanka from April 21-27
Locations of confirmed arrests in Sri Lanka from April 21-27
- 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.
Locations of false alarms of suspicious activity in Colombo from April 21-27
Foreign office advisories in view of security situation in Sri Lanka
- Meanwhile, the US Embassy has issued an advisory suggesting its citizens to 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 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 indicates that the Department of Buddhist Affairs has to refrain from conducting Sunday Dhamma School until schools are once again officially declared open. The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has cancelled all Sunday Masses until further notice following the attack.
- Finally, the Bandaranaike International Airport reportedly on high alert as of 2300 hrs on April 26 had no recorded disruptions to operations at the time of writing. Reports indicate 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
- 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, is confirmed, highlights the continued operational capabilities of the group and the underlying security threat in the island country.
- 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 western coast in January, all combined is indicative of the widely decentralised network of operations established by the militant group across the country. This further substantiates the prevailing security threat.
- However, given the remote location of the incident (roughly 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 has been extended beyond the announced hours. With this in mind, given that at least two of the suspected militants remain absconding, coupled with a host of arrests announced over the preceding days, 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 establishments and transport facilities
- Moreover, the announcement of resumption of schools and universities alongside 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 resumption of school and university operations alongside restoration of regular transportation 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.
- Finally, the likelihood of localised 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.
- Avoid non-essential travel to Sri Lanka.
- Those traveling to or operating in Colombo and its immediate neighborhood are advised to maintain heightened vigilance in the backdrop of the recent attacks. Remain cognizant of the timings of curfew typically imposed during late evening to early morning hours and subject to modification on a daily basis; do not travel when a curfew is imposed.
- Avoid all travel to the Eastern province’s Kalmunai, Chavalakade and Samanthurai region given the continued curfew and recent security raid, including additional ones that are expected over the coming hours.
- Avoid the immediate vicinity of religious places given the heightened threat of additional attacks- communal or militancy related.
- Avoid popular tourist destinations.
- Heightened security measures continued to be adopted at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport. It is thus recommended to report at least four hours prior to departure to avoid disruptions.
- Verify received information. Those staying in Sri Lanka are advised to allot for lack of connectivity via certain social media channels owing to governmental bans on certain platforms at the time of writing.