A nation is in mourning. One week ago today, on Easter Sunday April 21, 2019, Sri Lanka was hit by one of the most sinister acts of terrorism the world has ever seen. Over 250 people have died, and hundreds were injured in three bombs hitting Colombo’s most prominent hotels, and three bombs exploding in packed churches on Christianity’s holiest day.
Since those deadly attacks, there have been a few other explosions as Security forces have pursued remnants of the ISIS inspired terror cell. These subsequent events have seen the some of the most disturbing series of events, where suicide bombs have taken the lives of the bombers and several of their own young children. These events are exposing us to some of the darkest characterises of humanity.
Even in Sri Lanka’s multi decade civil war, which some estimate cost over 100,000 lives, the nation did not witness such maddening killing of innocent young children. The events of the past week have sickened Sri Lankans of all races and faiths. The people shocked, angry, disgusted, scared, and depressed at the same time.
After being born, raised, educated and domiciled in the United States, I have been in Sri Lanka for the better part of 15 years. To the amazement of friends and colleagues in the United States, I have married, had a family, and now call Sri Lanka my home.
Many of my contacts in the States are now checking in, wanting to know if my family is safe, and an update from me on the ground situation. I first put out a piece shortly after the bombings referenced below:
So much has happened in the last week, thus I feel compelled to update my take on the situation. My take has a different angle than most. Being an American with a background in finance, media, and politics, my assessment of the ground situation is different, and hopefully may add some value to the public as well as serve to update those who are contacting me.
Colombo, Sri Lanka’s only global city, is quiet. For the last week there has been a curfew in the nights, causing the streets to be almost empty by the time darkness falls. People who do come into the city, want to get home well before the curfew is in effect. For the last few days curfew has been from 10pm to 4am.
Schools were supposed to open last Monday, but they will now remain close till at least next Monday May 6th, two weeks later than they were supposed to open. Most religious events where there would have been significant public assembly have been put on hold.
Security in the city is tight, but still not nearly as tight as it was during the multi decade Civil War. Most hotels have army personnel stationed outside on guard. Two of the 3 hotels that were struck by bombs are set to reopen by April 30th, however a reopening date has not been set for Sri Lanka’s most prestigious hotel the Shangri La.
Sri Lankans are generally glued to their television sets or computers/phones anticipating news with regard to the security situation. News continues to break about explosives being found. There are constant alerts with regard to possible threats keeping the city on edge.
Disturbing CCTV footage is also being released showing the bombers movements before they detonated at the many different targets. Shocking details are also emerging about some of the bombers being financially secure and well educated.
Travel advisories have come from almost every embassy discouraging all but essential travel to Sri Lanka. Hotels have emptied out with foreign visitors cancelling their trips and looking to head back to the safety of home.
The United States Embassy has issued the following as part of their travel warning:
“On April 26, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of all school-age family members of U.S. government employees in Kindergarten through 12th grade. The Department also authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members.”
The last major incident happened 5 days after the attacks on the East Coast of the country (relatively far away from Colombo) where over a dozen people were likely killed in a skirmish at a safe house occupied by terrorists. Video is circulating of them heavily armed with their young children awaiting confrontation with security forces. With them were found a frightening cache of arms and explosives.
Based on my analysis, it appears as if the buildup of arms and ISIS inspired terrorist ideology has been happening over several years, and has only now reached a flashpoint.
The Sri Lankan security forces are likely capable of handling the security threat, and restoring normalcy to the country. My main fear is that outside actors will try to foster and support militant terrorist ideologies, pushing them on what will like feel like a repressed minority population caused by the upcoming crackdown on terror.
There is hope that this problem will be dealt with appropriately, however, Sri Lanka can not afford to get into a war on terror that is aided and abetted by foreign actors. We will need the help of the world to make sure ISIS stays out of our country. No one wants them here.
Sri Lanka’s economy will likely be able to withstand this shock, as the country has been very conservative with regard to fiscal and monetary policy over the last few years. There will be an economic hit from the freeze that will happen as the security forces get on top of the situation. The standstill in the economy may persist for some time, but the short term pain will be well worth it if it leads to an improved security situation. We can’t afford another significant attack, the ramifications of it would set the country’s economy back years.
Sri Lankans have been through so much pain as a people. Despite all the political issues the country was grappling with, we were doing very well and enjoying the benefits of a free society. The vast potential of the country was slowly by surely being realised.
Sri Lanka has now reached one of the most important crossroads in its history. Leaders of the nation must choose wisely. We can only get over this problem with competence from our leaders and compassion for our people. I do have hope that we will prevail.