Sri Lanka Army

Defenders of the Nation

29th August 2019 19:09:48 Hours

“Establish Council for Islamic Scholars to Provide Guidance in Countering Extremist Ideologies” - Research Fellow

“Examples can be taken from countries, like Singapore. Singapore established Religious Rehabilitation Group, a volunteer group of religious scholars where it works with other Muslim religious organizations such as Islamic Religious Council and Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association to develop both print and online material to provide guidance in countering hard-line ideologies. Sri Lanka also could consider such measures,” so said Dr Chulanee Attanayake, Visiting Research Fellow at Institute of South Asian Studies, National University, Singapore (ISAS-NUS) at the Colombo Defence Seminar - 2019 contributing to the topic ‘Sri Lanka: Decade after 2019’ under the sub topic ‘Confronting Terrorism’ on Thursday (29).

Commending the Sri Lanka Military for defeating terrorism making history in the world, the contributor admired how the Sri Lankan Military maintained relative peace for over another decade without a single terrorist act until the Easter Attack occurred. Here follows her full speech to the occasion;

“In 2009, Sri Lanka made history in the world by becoming the only country to defeat terrorism by military means in the contemporary world. It was a common consensus at the time that the LTTE could not be militarily defeated given its increasing sophistication in the use of land and sea power effectively. However, Sri Lanka’s military – with its limited resources, yet commendable skills and strategies – defeated one of the ruthless terrorist groups in the world.

After its historic victory in 2009, for a decade, the island maintained its national security without a single incident of a terrorist attack, until the Easter Attack happened on April 21st. During the post-war decade, Sri Lanka was seen taking multiple measures to counter the possible terrorist activities by the LTTE on the home ground. It made attempts at rebuilding the war-torn areas and; rehabilitated the former LTTE carders and reintegrated them into the society. It took measures to strengthen counter-terrorism legislatures. It continued corporation with regional and international counter-terrorism networks to curb terrorism in the region. Yet, the synchronized string of bombings on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, revealed that what Sri Lanka did for the past ten years was not enough. It revealed that even though Sri Lanka succeeded in preventing re-emergence of the LTTE, it failed in preventing the emergence of new terror groups.

Thus, Sri Lanka’s story is an interesting case study on counter-terrorism. This lecture looks into the best practices of Sri Lanka’s counter-terrorism strategy. It will focus on what Sri Lanka did right in the post-war decade in order to counter the re-emergence of LTTE. It will then focuses on what Sri Lanka could have done differently in order to prevent the emergence of new terror groups.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

First of all let me thank the Sri Lanka Military for the invitation to speak today at this eminent panel. It is a great privilege and an honor to me.

Today, I will share some thoughts on Sri Lanka’s experience in countering terrorism.

As we all know in 2009, Sri Lanka made history in the world by becoming the only country to defeat terrorism by military means in the contemporary world. Its ability to remain without a single incident of LTTE terror activity has been commendable. However, the Easter Attack on April 21st was a wake-up call not only to Sri Lanka but also to the entire world that no country is free from today’s threat of terrorism. Thus, this case study provide lessons on what to do and what to prevent in countering the terrorism in a country. This paper attempts to shed some light into this.

1 Introduction: Sri Lanka’s Experience of Eradicating Terrorism Terrorism is a major threat in the modern world. The occurrence of terrorist attacks is unpredictable and pervasive.

Every country,weak or powerful,is susceptible to the act of terrorism and affected by modern-day terrorism indiscriminately.

Sri Lanka’s experience of terrorism is related to domestic situation,.

Let me remind you some basic information on what terrorism was like in Sri Lanka before talking about what is Sri Lanka’s experience in countering this threat.

Terrorism in Sri Lanka, begun when a Tamil movement which was relatively peaceful until the 1960s transformed into an insurgency and developed into an extraordinarily violent struggle with regionalramifications in the 1980s.Later it developed into a violent struggle in which the established and emerging Sinhalese and Tamil Leaders and military personnel were killed and the civilians were attacked. LTTE was also the only organization who killed two heads of States.

Suicide Attack Database of the University of Chicago, the most recognised global database on historic suicide, reports Between 1987 and 2009, LTTE carried out at least 115 attacks, killing 1,584 people and injuring a further 3,996with an average of 14 people getting killed by each attack and almost 35 people wounded. LTTE acknowledge that they have completed at least 147 attacks. A study by the Sri Lankan Armed forces claimed that 239 Black tigers have died in suicide strikes.

The suicide attack strategy of the LTTE was sophisticated enough that despite the Sri Lankan government’s preventive measures the LTTE still managed to successfully terrorize the innocent civilians through its attacks from time to time.

Available literatureestimates between 50,000-100,000 lives, including combatants from both sides and civilians,to have lost during the cause of the war.There is also huge cost to the economic development.

The cost of terrorism in Sri Lanka is estimated to be about US$ 200 billion. This is a result of both the direct and indirect cost of terrorism.

So what did Sri Lanka do to end this terrorism in the country?

For years respective governments has tested various strategies in finding a solution. As a responsive measure in preventing any terrorist attacks and minimalizing the damage which could be caused by such attacks, check points were established at every strategic and public places; the VIPs were given protective vehicles for travel; and enhanced public awareness to be vigilant about suspicious persons. Security committees were established at grassroot level; and Civil Defense Force was established in the border villagers to control an unexpected attack until the military comes to rescue.

Sri Lanka also tried ceasefires followed by peace negotiations with the support of international mediators. However, none of it worked due to the LTTE’s inflexibility and unilateral resume of hostilities during and after peace talks. By the year 2005,the government was compelled to revert to military offensive.

Eradicating terrorism through a military offensive succeeded as a result of the change of strategies. It was realized that the key to defeating the LTTE was to wipe out the leadership. Hence,Sri Lanka focused on a grand strategy targeting victory and eliminating the leadership, rather than narrow military success. In doing so, the intelligence service tri-forces and the police conducted coordinated attacks. Small, well-trained, highly-mobile groups infiltrated the front lines. Simultaneously, LTTE Cells operating in Colombo and other towns were wiped out.

The government provided the political support required for the military in conducting the operations successfully. The budget was increased significantly. It used the diplomatic channels to alienate the LTTE globally. At home, the citizens were convinced of the need to eradicate terrorism through military means, while attempting economic growth, so that they feel war is worth fighting.

Government also took measures to motivate and boost the confidence of the soldiers. Welfare programs for their families for instance provided them a sense of assurance, that even if they lose their lives at the battlefield, their families will be protected and will be taken care of. Successful government propaganda which propagated the soldiers as the saviours of nation boosted the recruitments. For instance, before 2005, the Army had difficulty recruiting 3,000 soldiers annually; by late 2008, the Army was recruiting 3,000 soldiers a month.

As a result of this change of strategy and successful implementation, Sri Lanka eradicated terrorism from its soil by May 2009

Yet, Sri Lanka’s story reveal that its success in curbing LTTE terrorism is not only a result of the war it fought until May 2009, but also a result of what it did aftermath of the end of the war. The best practices Sri Lanka followed provide lessons for the countries in countering domestically born terrorism.

2 Counter Terrorism - Best Practices After 2009

By the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka was aware that the LTTE ideology is still active internationally. Hence, the post-2009 counter-terrorism strategy focused on diminishing the LTTE linkages at home and at international level and reconstruction of the affected areas in order the civilians to return to normalcy and participate at economic and social activities.

2.1 Diminishing LTTE Linkages

In diminishing the LTTE linkages, the strategies such as rehabilitating the ex-combatants, dealing with the international LTTE sympathisers and curbing avenues for terrorism financing were followed.

2.1.1 Rehabilitation of LTTE

Sri Lanka successfully rehabilitated 12,000 ex-combatants surrendered to the Government forces. It developed a multifaceted program to engage and transform the violent attitude and behaviours of the leaders, members and collaborates. The programme followed “6+1 model” consisting education, vocational training, psychosocial and creative therapies, social, cultural and family engagement modes, spiritual and religious modes, recreational programmes and finally community rehabilitation. The program was aimed at reintegrating the former LTTE cardre and the collaborators into the society.

Dr.Malkanthi Hettiarachchi’s research on Sri Lanka’s Rehabilitation programme emphasizes that lack of single terrorist attack since the end of the war, even after three-decade of campaign of insurgency and terrorism, is partly attributed to the success of the rehabilitation programme.

2.1.2 Dealing with the International Diaspora In curbing the international LTTE influence, Sri Lankan government is still making an effort.

The LTTE had a two tier strategy in achieving its goal, “invoke fear in Sri Lanka but sympathy overseas’ . The LTTE used their well-established international network to implement its second strategy.

According to Canadian Security Intelligence Service,by 1988, the LTTE had established offices and cells in at least 54 countries in Europe, America and Australia.These cells continued its international propaganda through politically sympathetic pressure groups and media units. It discoursed threefold message; Tamils are the innocent victims of a government dominated by Sinhalese; Sri Lankan Tamils, constituting 12.5% of the population, are subjected to constant discrimination and military oppression; The Tamils can never peacefully coexist with the Sinhalese in a single state.

LTTE’s propaganda war was conducted at an extremely sophisticated manner. It used pressure groups to influence the diplomatic missions to pressurize the Sri Lankan government, it put out graphic videos, pamphlets and calendars showing, in gut-churning detail, the results of government air and military strikes against LTTE strongholds. They even successfully utilized internet at early years, and later social media, for communication. They managed to establish their campaign successfully, that even today Sri Lankan government still faces the difficulty in countering their on-going propaganda.

After 2009, Sri Lanka proscribed a list of16 groups and 424 individuals under a terrorism watchlist. It is continuing to use its official diplomatic channels and international organizations in order to counter the propaganda and delimit its influence on the possibility of re-emerging of LTTE if any.

2.1.3 Terrorism Financing

The LTTE also established the most sophisticated, extensive and sustainable terrorist financing network across the world(Stanford, 2015). The majority of the contributions came from the Tamil Diaspora in North America, Europe, and Australia .Mackenzie Institute, a non-profit research group based in Toronto, the most profitable LTTE activities have been in the form of heroin trafficking particularly in Southeast and Southwest Asia. LTTE was also connected to highly efficient international networked developed to smuggle munition around the world.

Following the end of the war, Sri Lanka took measures to curb continuation of such money entering the country. Sri Lanka belongs to the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering and member of the Egmont Group. In 2015 Substantial cash assets amounting to $677,600 and land assets worth $533,000 relating toterrorists and terrorism financing have been frozen, while cash and non-cash assets amounting to$6.5 million have been confiscated under the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979.

2.2 Reconstruction and Development

A large civilian population has been ‘relocated’ away from their homes, in some cases several times, and there exists a major refugee problem, that has spilled over into the international arena. The human and social costs of death, disability, dispossession and the psychological trauma associated with violence and terror are not really quantifiable.

In order to bring stability and normalcy to the affected areas, and boost the economic performance,the government has paid a great attention to reconstructthe Northern and Eastern provinces with the help of foreign governments and institution. In doing so, 500,000 IDPs were resettled in their places of origin, land mines were removed and cleared in an area of an extent of 2065 sqkm. Several programmes such as UthuruUdanaya were implemented to restore the livelihood of resettled people, renovated damaged public places such as schools, hospitals and other public amenities, and cleaned agricultural lands and water resources that were suspected as being contaminated.

Success of these programs is reflected from the fact that there were no reported incidents of LTTE inspired terrorism for the past ten years.

However, the Easter Bomb Attack that occurred on April 21st, revealed that even though the LTTE terrorism is wiped out of the country, Sri Lanka is not completely immune from the scourge of terrorism. It also reveal that Sri Lanka has missed the nuances of new development in terrorism in the world.

3 Why Sri Lanka failed in Preventing Easter Attack?

Sri Lanka failed to prevent the Easter Attack, mainly because it failed to anticipate such terrorist attack to occur in the country. As per the Global Threat Forecast, Counter Terrorism Trends and Analysis (2019), the global terrorist and extremists’ threat is likely to continue in 2019. Yet, Sri Lanka failed to realize this harsh truth.

3.1 Failure to Anticipate Threat from Global Terrorism:

Sri Lanka’s experience with the LTTE is that of ethno-nationalist separatism. However, in South Asia, religious extremism has become the main cause fuelling terrorism. Information gathered after the Easter Attack reveal that the attack in Sri Lanka is a result of religious extremism. Failure in anticipating this form of terrorism reveal how Sri Lanka has failed in understanding the spill over effect of global terrorism. The way how the extremist group managed to gather manpower, technology and equipment to carry a sophisticated attack of this scale without failure explains how Sri Lanka failed in understanding potential threat of international terrorism networks and their way of operation.

Many of the suspects associated with the attacks in Sri Lanka, and many who got arrested during the search-and-seizure operations are from educated and affluent social backgrounds.This emphasize the fact that the theory of terrorism being a result of poverty and oppression does not work anymore.

Easter Attack is also a result of the authorities soft peddling on the spread of Wahhabism even though it is acknowledged as a global challenge which lead to religious extremism. Sri Lanka has been warned by security experts of the emergence of groups sympathizing of ISIS in the country. People have continuously complained against the group and the individual involved in Easter Attack. Yet, the Sri Lankan authorities were not proactive in responding to these signs. The focus has been on a possible LTTE resurgence, hence that affected the government’sattention to emerging threats, such as reports of Sri Lankan foreign terrorist fighters joining theIslamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

3.2 Disrupted Security Apparatus

The Easter Attack is also a result of multiple gaps in national security apparatus. Failure of prompt response towardsreceived warnings from foreign intelligenceabout a possible attack days before cost the loss of lives of innocent people. It was revealed that paralysis of security forces due to lack of legal authority to act upon the intelligence information prevented the members of the National ThowheedJama’ath (NTJ) who is accused of the attacks, being arrested.

Not only that, as a society, Sri Lanka’s security culture has been disturbed. Sri Lankans have forgotten to be vigilant and alert of their own security. End of the three-decades of war have given the society a sense of assuarance. As a result, they have failed to take note of any suspicious activities happening surrounding their environment. 3.3 Weakened Institutions

The struggle among the political elite to retain in power led to political instability and weakened institutions.

3.4 Polarized Society:

Polarization of the society also led to communal mistrust paving the way for the extremists to radicalize and attract supporters.

What Sri Lanka can do to counter this new challenge of terrorism in the country? The answers can be found from Sri Lanka’s own experience as well as from its regional counterparts. South Asian countries, such as India and Bangladesh have seen the consequence of terrorism born from religious extremism. Mumbai attack in 2008 and Holey Artisan Bakery attack in Dhaka in 2016 have some similarities to that of the Easter Attack in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka can learn from the experience of India and Bangladesh in responding to the threat of terrorism.

4 What Sri Lanka can Do?

4.1 Acknowledgement of the susceptibility to the threat of Terrorism

As mentioned earlier, every country in the world is susceptible to some form of terrorism. In 2016, Terrorism expert Prof. Rohan Gunaratne wrote an article which emphasized the country is susceptible for the “twin threat of terrorism”; LTTE terrorism and Global terrorism. In my observation, Sri Lanka is susceptible to three forms of terrorism; from LTTE’s global network, global terrorism, and maritime terrorism.

As explained earlier, even though LTTE is defeated on the ground, its ideology and its global network is still surviving. Hence, Sri Lanka is susceptible to the possibility of their influence at home. This pose challenge of the possibility of the re-emergence of the LTTE.

Sri Lanka experienced maritime terrorism during the LTTE period, it was the only terrorist organization in the world that effectively used maritime operations as part of their grand strategy. Being an island nation, Sri Lanka continues to be vulnerable to this form of terrorism.

Understanding and acknowledgement of this harsh reality helps the country in forming its policies and strategies to face an unexpected situation such as the Easter Attack.

4.2 Zero Tolerance Approach to Terrorism and Extremism

Sri Lanka should follow a zero tolerance approach to terrorism and extremism. Most acts of terrorism in today’s world are a result of some form of extremism. In order to curb the terrorism born from extremism, Singapore for instance, implements a zero tolerance approach. It is seen implementing arrests, detention, and imposition of restriction orders under its Internal Security Act -deportation, protective security measures, counter-ideology, terrorist rehabilitation and community engagement.

On the contrary, we saw that in Sri Lanka, for almost three years, the government is attempting to introduce a new counter-terrorism act calling the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) as draconian. As a result, the security authorities could not carry out their duties appropriately which cost the lives of innocent people.

4.3 Proper Analysis of Global Terrorism

Any discussion of terrorism in Sri Lanka cannot ignore the wider influences and ramifications of global terrorism. Therefore, a proper understanding and analysis of global terrorism is important.

We know that What helped Sri Lanka in winning the war was changing strategy to face the changing nature of LTTE terrorism. For that Sri Lanka studied LTTE and its competence. Similarly, Sri Lanka should study in deep into changing nature of global terrorism,keeping in mind of their wider influence and ramification.

Modern day terrorism is not restricted to battlefields. It is fought on the ground as well as in the cyber space.

Understanding these new development should be done through coordinated measures. Academia, think-tanks, policy makers and the military should work together in this exercise. Each of this group of professionals have their own set of skills which is unique and could be interchanged with the other.

4.4 Strengthening Security Apparatus

After the attack in April, some loopholes in the security apparatus was discovered. It was revealed that the security apparatus is highly fragmented and poorly coordinated. There is a variety of central investigative, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, yet they have been performing their tasks in isolation.

It is well-known that GOSL made a concentrated effort in increasing the strength of armed forces in terms of human resources as well as platforms during the LTTE period, which helped in winning the war. – however, the question at hand is are these efforts are enough to fight a new form of terrorism.

In this regard, there are lessons, Sri Lanka can learn from its past and from others. For instance, During the Mumbai attack India had a fragmented and often poorly coordinated internal security system. The federal political system left most policing responsibilities to the states including counterterrorism and intelligence. The units were understaffed, undertrained and technologically backward. After the Mumbai attack, India took measures to Establish the National Investigation Agency to empower the federal agencies to investigate crimes such as terrorism and organized crime without having to asked by the states. The courts have the ability to speed up the terror-related cases. They also enhanced the coordination among different security apparatus.

Intelligence gathering and sharing plays a crucial role. Sri Lanka’s experience with winning against the LTTE gives proof. It was successful gathering of intelligence, collation and evaluation, and dissemination which helped in prompt actions against LTTE. 4.5 Enhanced surveillance, profiling and monitoring

Enhanced surveillance, profiling and monitoring is another aspect which would help in countering the threat of terrorism. This is a method that is been practiced by almost all the countries. They develop systems to cater to the individual need.

This should engage both short-term and long term strategies. In the short-term the focus could be on coordination that can leverage existing assets and capabilities. In the longer run focus on improving training and technical capacity, incorporating Artificial Intelligence into surveillance, profiling and monitoring can be used.

Use of electronicsurveillance methods such as the installation of surveillance cameras at critical infrastructure and monitoring critical access points is a key. Enhancing analytical capabilities of the surveillance and monitoring to allow real time monitoring and analysis of the CCTV data will help planning and execution of responses,and shorten the time taken to identify, apprehend and prevent perpetrators.

4.6 Strengthening social resilience to prevent racial and religious tension and conflict

Continuous Rising ethnic tension and mistrust among the communities after the Easter attack emphasize that the terrorists have succeeded in provoking anti-Muslim sentiments in the society, and emphasizes the need for inter-communal dialogue. Thus, the battle against terrorism cannot be fought by the authorities alone. Building a society resilient to prevent racial and religious tensions is important.Sri Lanka needs to take measures in developing social resilience through community engagement, counterideology, terrorist rehabilitation and re-integration, that would help different ethnic and religious communities to remain calm and act responsibly at a future attack.

In doing so, making the Muslim community an important front in counter-terrorism effort is important. It is important to workwith religious and community leaders closely on counter-ideology measures to inoculate the larger community from perverse and dangerous extremist ideologies.

Examples can be taken from countries, like Singapore. Singapore established Religious Rehabilitation Group a volunteer group of religious scholars where it works with other Muslim religious organizations such as Islamic Religious Council and Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association to develop both print and online material to provide guidance in countering hard-line ideologies.


Sri Lanka’s story is an interesting case study on counter-terrorism. Having successfully defeated a ruthless terrorist group it provides lessons for the others on what should be done as counter-terrorism measures. On the other hand, after the Easter Attack, Sri Lanka also provides some key lessons to the world on what should be done differently in order to prevent the emergence of new terror groups. For every issue and a challenge of one country, there is a solution in another. What Sri Lanka should do is to learn from its past experiences, implement what worked right, and learn from the others to do the rest better.

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