Skip to content
Subscriber Only
James Stavridis

Sri Lanka Attacks Mark the Birth of Terrorism 3.0

The Islamic State has morphed into an internet-based organization fueling cells and attacks across the globe.

St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, after the bombings.

St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, after the bombings.

Photographer: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP, via Getty Images

Until the other day, few Americans could likely find Sri Lanka on a map, nor even dimly remember its British colonial name, Ceylon. But the Indian Ocean nation flashed across news screens over the Easter weekend with a highly sophisticated and lethal series of bombings across the island nation of some 20 million. The attacks were probably inspired, encouraged and possibly assisted by the so-called Islamic State, and — on a population adjusted basis — amounted to a 9/11 level attack on a multicultural and multireligious state, killing more than 320 people thus far across nine sites with hundreds more wounded.

The attacks were conducted with suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices, executed at a level that seems far beyond the capabilities of the Sri Lankan radical Islamic splinter group Nations Thawahid Jaman that has claimed responsibility. Previously, the group had specialized in comparatively benign defacement of Buddhist statues (70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists). The idea that this organization could suddenly plan and conduct a nationwide, precisely timed series of nine bombings seems highly unlikely. Thus suspicion grows that ISIS was involved at an operational level — a modus operandi associated with their increasing globalization.