While monitoring the usual channels, Indian police stumbled upon something extraordinary: a detailed plot for what would become the bloodiest attack linked to the Islamic State group in South Asia.
Police were investigating suspected sympathizers of the withered caliphate in southern India when a name they had no record of surfaced — National Towheed Jamaat, the Sri Lankan IS-backed militant organization that authorities say conducted the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people.
Indian police managed to break into the group’s communications and began tapping into the plot, according to Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. “That is why the kind of detailing of the incident they received was very, very specific,” Sahni said. “They knew the group, they knew the targets, they knew the time, they knew the whereabouts of the suicide bombers, and all of this was communicated to the Sri Lankan government.”
Top Sri Lankan officials have acknowledged that some of the island nation’s intelligence units were given advance notice about the attacks — starting weeks ago and up until the morning of the bombings — but that little was done to prevent them.
Both President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also Sri Lanka’s minister of defense and in charge of national police, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has been kept out of high-level security meetings since Sirisena tried to oust him last fall, said they only learned about the plot after it had been carried out.
“The fact is, it’s very, very specific information and that has been conveyed to everyone in writing. That is the action that was missing in some cases. That’s what we’re investigating,” Wickremesinghe said.
The first intelligence brief from India arrived April 4, more than two weeks before the bombings. It said a suicide terrorist attack was planned against “some important churches” and listed six people likely to be involved.
The deputy inspector of police shared the report with at least four security unit directors, including those responsible for “VIPs” and foreign embassies, along with a memo, urging the directors to pay extra attention to the places and people in their care.
India’s final intelligence warning came just before the Easter morning blasts, Sahni said. Why the warnings went unheeded is the subject of intense public debate, with some blaming the dismantling of a system built by former strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa for rapid response to rebel activity during Sri Lanka’s long civil war.