India’s first alert sent to Lanka 17 days before deadly bombing, then 2 more
India sent as many as three alerts to Sri Lanka, including one on the day of the Easter Sunday attack that left 321 people dead and 500 injured, according to senior intelligence officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The first alert was on April 4, and it came from investigations by Indian agencies that followed after the National Investigation Agency (NIA), in December 2018, stumbled upon the videos of National Thowheed Jama’at (NTJ) leader Maulvi Zahran Bin Hashim while probing the Islamic State (IS) Coimbatore module.
In the first alert, the agencies told Sri Lanka that, apart from churches, the Indian High Commission in Colombo could be a target. The second alert was sent a day before the attack and was even more specific than the first one in that it mentioned the possible targets, the officials said.
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The last alert was sent hours before the suicide bombers attacked the three churches and four hotels.
“The information about the attacks were a result of detailed analysis of information gathered through technical means and human sources,” one of the officials said. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged that alerts had been sent by India.
“India gave us the intelligence but there has been a lapse on how we acted on that... intelligence was not conveyed down the line,” Wickremesinghe told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
HT spoke to multiple officials in the central intelligence agencies who confirmed that the videos of Hashim, in which he exhorted Muslim youth from Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala to establish an Islamic rule in the region, were analysed in detail and investigated further by India’s external spy agency R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing). The videos were stored in the pen drives, memory cards, mobile phones and CDs/DVDs, recovered by NIA on December 19, 2018 during raids at Kuniyamuthur, Ukkadam, Otteri in Chennai, Tindivanam near Villupuram, and Variety Hall Road in Coimbatore, from the premises of six ISIS suspects, Mohammed Ashiq A, Ismail S, Samsudeen, Mohammed Salauddin S, Jafar Shadik Ali and Shahul Hameed.
The six IS members were arrested on September 1, 2018 for planning to attack Hindu leaders/activists in Coimbatore.
The Coimbatore module members, a second intelligence official said, also regularly listened to Hashim’s speeches. All six have already been charged by NIA.
“Hashim’s video, which appeared to be the latest, showed he was aggressive and he repeatedly assured the cadres that something big would happen soon to teach a lesson [to the members of communities which do not follow the Sharia],” said the officer quoted above.
Further investigation also revealed that some of the Coimbatore module members were in touch with some Sri Lankans, who also followed Hashim.
“Bin Hashim had a major role in radicalising these youngsters on both sides [India and Sri Lanka] to be part of Islamic State,” said the second official who added that the Coimbatore module had no idea of what was being planned in Sri Lanka.
Indian agencies subsequently discovered Hashim’s mobile numbers as well and found that Hashim was in touch with some IS functionaries in neighbouring Bangladesh. A senior government official who did not wish to be named said that Bangladesh too needs to be on the alert.
Based on the analysis by NIA and further information gathered done by the Intelligence Bureau and R&AW, a communication was sent to Sri Lanka about the possible attacks.
The Sri Lankan authorities evidently took the information lightly, and, in turn, sent out a nationwide alert only on April 11.
Preliminary investigations have revealed that Hashim blew himself up at Shangri-La hotel in Colombo on Sunday.