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2024.05.22- The Islamic State Sri Lanka Branch Revives

2024.05.22- The Islamic State Sri Lanka Branch Revives


The Indian government preempted an Islamic State attack on Indian soil targeting both Indian and foreign nationals.  The would-be-perpetrators – four Sri Lankan nationals – were apprehended by the Gujarat Police Anti-Terrorism Squad. A video was retrieved from the mobile phone recovered from the possession of Mohammad Nusrath. In this video, four men are standing in front of a black flag with an inscription in Arabic. Among these, the faces of two men in the middle are visible while the faces of men on the sides are covered with a white cloth. These four men were seen making the Baya’ah (pledge) in Arabic and Tamil. Like Zahran’s video, they too pledge to migrate to join the proscribed terrorist organisation Islamic State (ISIS), follow the path shown by Abu Bakr Baghdadi and teach a lesson to the attackers who commit atrocities against the Muslim Community as well as to teach a lesson to Jews, Christians and members of BJP-RSS. The threat has spread from Jews and Christians to Hindus. Considering that Zahran and his ideologue Noufer wanted to attack Buddhist targets, it is very likely that the future regional threat will include both Hindu and Buddhist targets. 

The Islamic State members arrested in Gujarat were: 

1) MOHAMED NUSRATH AHAMED GANI, Age – 33 Years (DOB 08/01/1991) Address – 27/17, Rahmanabad, Pariymol, Negombo

2) MOHAMED NAFRAN NAUFER Age – 27 Years (DOB 12/07/1997) Address – 203/17, Liyards Broad Way, Colombo-14


(DOB 10/09/1987), Address – 415/29, Jumma Masjid Road, Maligawatte, Colombo 10

4) MOHAMED RASDEEN ABDUL RAHEEM, Age – 43 Years (DOB 05/01/1980) Address – 36/20, Gulfanda Street, Colombo-13

Sri Lankan authorities did not know of the threat until the Indian authorities arrested the Sri Lankan terrorist cell. Soon after the arrest, the Sri Lankan authorities started to investigate the Sri Lankans arrested in India. While Nusrath was engaged in phone accessories and electrical items, Nafran was engaged in selling garments, shoes and chocolates. Faris was a Porter and Rasheen was a Trishaw driver.  Three of the four arrested had engaged in the drug trade. Mohammad Nusrath and Mohammad Nafran have been to India before whereas Mohammad Nusrath also held a valid visa from Pakistan. They travelled extensively to Mumbai and Chennai. 

The Context

The four Sri Lankans were radicalised in Sri Lanka and recruited by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). They were exposed to ISKP propaganda. Voice of Khurasan is an English language Magazine published through ISKP and covers a range of political and religious topics. This publication promoted causes championed by ISKP and the broader Islamic State movement while also maligning their respective enemies.  In its 19th issue, for instance, an article titled ‘Sheikh Abu Ubaydah, the Emir of Istishhadi Knights who wreaked havoc on the Crusaders in Sri Lanka’, praises and seeks to inspire emulation of Zahran as a mastermind of the Easter Sunday attack.

The ISKP leadership is located in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has members throughout South Asia and beyond. ISKP radicalised a few hundred Sri Lankans before and after the Easter attack. The ISKP leadership in Pakistan directed the terrorist operation in India. Recently ISKP mounted attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Moscow. The most affected are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. ISKP targeted an Election rally in Pakistan’s Bajaur District on 30 July 2023, killing over 60 and wounding well over 100 people. ISKP also claimed three attacks in February 2024 in Balochistan province targeting political leaders, which claimed 33 lives and injured 54 others. Similarly, on 3  January 2024, the Group carried out a double suicide bombing in Iran that killed 91 people and wounded at least 102 others.

To mount the operation, the Sri Lankan cell of the ISKP was resourced with Rs 400,000 and provided three firearms and ammunition. The ISKP network in Gujarat and India provided support to the perpetrators. According to the Indian investigators, 5 Photographs and 1 Video were found in the Proton drive used by the above entities. These Photographs were of (a) a water canal with a probable landmark, (b) some parcel kept in a pink bag under the cavity of concrete boulders, (c) a parcel wrapped in a pink bag and packed with brown adhesive tapes, (d) a flag with Arabic writing in middle and three pistol-shaped parcels arranged side by its side and (e) three pistols and three magazines loaded with ammunition, and looking at the thumbnail of the Video it appeared to be the same video of the Baya’ah.

To communicate securely, the Indian investigators revealed that the Sri Lankan cell used the electronic dead letter box method. 

A self-sent email was also found in Proton mail used by the above-mentioned accused, which contained the GR (grid reference) mentioning the latitude and longitude of a place.

Further interrogation of the suspects revealed that they are active members of the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) and are followers of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and their handler is a person named Abu Pakistani. Baya’ah was given to the Amir of ‘Islamic State’ (IS) by them as per the instructions of their Pakistani handler. 

In February 2024, the perpetrators had come in contact with the IS handler Abu Pakistani. Upon his indoctrination, they became members of the IS. After taking the baya’ah, they had come to Ahmedabad in Gujarat at the behest of this Pakistani Handler Abu. They were to carry out a terrorist attack somewhere in India under the guidance and instructions passed by Abu Pakistani. Abu Pakistani had paid them Rs 4,00,000 in Sri Lankan currency and made arrangements for the weapons and ammunition to be used in terrorist attacks.

Abu Pakistani, the IS handler, had informed them that he would share Photos of the weapons and the Grid Reference location as well as the Photos of the place where the weapons would be hidden on Proton Drive and Proton Mail. Abu Pakistani had instructed them to go to that place and retrieve the weapons after which he would provide them with further instructions for their task. 


The Indian investigators had developed significant capabilities to detect threats to India and other countries. Indian investigators in Tamil Nadu were the first to inform Sri Lanka of Zahran’s Group that mounted the Easter attack. Similarly, Indian investigators in Gujarat were the first to uncover another Sri Lankan cell planning to attack in India.

Deputy Superintendent of Police Shri Harsh Upadhyay of Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) Gujarat had received information of Sri Lankan terrorist cells arriving in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on 18 or 19 May by flight or train to carry out the terrorist attack.

To corroborate the information, a team of ATS Gujarat collected and analysed the booking manifests of flights and trains coming to Ahmedabad on 18 and 19 May. While checking the flight booking details, the tickets of the four Sri Lankan nationals were booked on one single PNR. During the investigation, it came to the knowledge of ATS Gujarat that the four Sri Lankan citizens had booked flight tickets from Colombo to Ahmedabad via Chennai. Upon enquiring about their travel itinerary, it was confirmed that they would depart from Colombo in the morning of 19/05/2024 and reach Ahmedabad Airport at 20:10 Hrs on 19/05/2024 via Chennai by Indigo flight No: 6E 848. Immediately, teams were formed under the leadership of SPs Shri K. Siddharth and Shri K. K. Patel and Dy. S.Ps Shri Harsh Upadhyay and Shri S.L. Chaudhari and deployed at Ahmedabad Airport, since the evening of 19/05/2024. All four suspects were picked up from Ahmedabad Airport itself, and were brought to ATS Gujarat for their further interrogation. 

A team of Gujarat ATS immediately carried out a search in the presence of the suspects, independent witnesses/panchas and translator at the Geo Co-ordinates disclosed in the proton mail, during which 3 Pistols and 1 black Flag were found from a pink parcel. All three Pistols had a star marking and out of these three, 2 pistols had 7 rounds each in their attached magazine while 1 Pistol had 6 rounds in its attached magazine, with a total of 20 rounds being recovered along with three star marked Pistols. 

All the rounds had FATA written on them and all Pistols had a unique star marking with their serial numbers having been deliberately scratched off to prevent their backtracking. The three Pistols were Norinco Type54 whereas ammunition was manufactured in erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. ‘Mohammed is the Messenger of God and there is no God but Allah’ was found written in white and black letters in the Arabic language on the black Flag found during the discovery of these hidden articles. This black Flag belongs to the banned terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS).

Understanding The Threat

Sri Lankan Muslims lived peacefully for 1,400 years until the infiltration of its religious space by Salafi Wahhabi, Jamaat-e-Islami and other foreign ideologies. No Sri Lankan Sufi joined the Islamic State Branch that perpetrated the Easter Sunday attack. In the case of the four Sri Lankans arrested in Gujarat, they too were radicalised by these foreign ideologies. 

Those four recruited were radicalised in the Salafi Wahhabi mosques operating in Sri Lanka. 

Upon the recommendation of Justice Janak de Silva’s Presidential Commission of Inquiry Into the Easter Sunday attack, the Sri Lankan government proscribed organisations that promoted exclusivist and extremist ideas and ideologies. They included the National Tawheed Jamaat (NTJ), Jamiatul Ansari Sunnatul Mohammadia (JASM), Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaat (SLTJ), All Ceylon Tawheed Jamaat (ACTJ), Lanka Tawheed Jamaat (CTJ), and the United Tawheed Jamaat (UTJ) in April 2021. After Muslim radicals and politicians lobbied the government, it was decided to conditionally lift the ban imposed on five of 11 Islamic organisations in July 2023.  The five organisations are JASM, SLTJ, ACTJ, CTJ and UTJ. 

Given the latest arrests of four Sri Lankan Muslims planning and preparing attacks in India, the Sri Lankan authorities and Muslim leaders should work together to mitigate the threat by launching rehabilitation and community engagement programmes. Otherwise, like Tamil ethnic separatism, Muslim religious extremism will spread in Sri Lanka. It is very unfortunate that the Church did not do its best to engage the Muslim leaders and advise them to prevent radicalisation by community engagement and rehabilitate those already radicalised either in custody or released.

The Way Forward

The time is right for the Muslim leaders to accept that Muslim radicalisation is a security threat and help to address it. Unfortunately, cases were filled disrupting the rehabilitation and community engagement efforts. To ensure the future security of 

Sri Lanka is not compromised, Muslim leaders and the elite need to address religious radicalisation. 

The perpetrators of the Easter attack in custody have not been rehabilitated. As long as they are not rehabilitated they will be a security threat – they will mount attacks, they will infect others with their ideology, and they will be hailed as heroes. At least now Muslim leaders should acknowledge that religious radicalisation is the driver of the Easter attack and should address it by rehabilitation and community engagement. 

Even after such a devastating terrorist attack, the Muslim leadership has not acknowledged that there is community radicalisation. It is because those with personal and political interests have promoted the idea that the Israeli MOSSAD, Indian RAW and Sri Lankan military and intelligence were behind the Easter attack. To address Sri Lankan Muslim radicalisation that is apparent after the Gujarat arrests, Muslim leaders should take the threat seriously and address it by developing community engagement and rehabilitation programmes. Otherwise, Sri Lanka is likely to suffer from another attack or Sri Lankans are likely to stage attacks overseas. 

Rather than spread conspiracy theories, five years after Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday massacre,  the best and the brightest Muslims should come together to address Muslim radicalisation. Instead of exploiting a catastrophic attack, they should protect the religious space by saying ‘No’ to Salafi Wahhabism, Jamaat-e-Islami and other foreign ideologies that seek to replace local and traditional Islam. 


The threat is very real. The four would-be perpetrators are from the Western Province. While one suspect is from Negombo, others are from Colombo 10, 13 and 14. This demonstrates the severity of the threat and the need to recognise it. Rather than leave it to the military, police and intelligence, there should be a partnership built between the State and community to address it. Leaders should rise to the occasion rather than exploit the Easter massacre. 

In ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday Massacre – Lessons for the International Community’, I highlight how the Parliamentary opposition, radical politicians and religious leaders distorted the findings of a catastrophic attack for personal and political gain. With the de-proscription of Salafi Wahhabi Groups and disruption of terrorist rehabilitation, Sri Lanka’s ongoing community radicalisation will manifest in another cycle of terrorism and violence. Sri Lanka should build a generation of far-reaching leaders committed to bipartisanship in national security. Based on evidence collected from numerous interviews of those involved, if the Government and Muslim leaders do not work together Sri Lanka will suffer from terrorism. Today, the challenge for governments is not only to bring the perpetrators to justice but deal with the ideology and also counter the fake news. 

With online falsehoods and manipulations emerging as the world’s number one threat, governments should develop robust legal and policy frameworks to investigate and prosecute those who deliberately fabricate and purposely disseminate misinformation and disinformation. To counter fake news and denial of truth, governments should build far-reaching capabilities to communicate effectively to the public. 

The highest tribute we can pay to the victims of the Easter attack is to preempt the next attack, prevent radicalisation through community engagement and build an effective rehabilitation programme. The need of the hour is to build an educated citizenry and bipartisanship on national security so as not to compromise national and strategic interests for political and personal gain! 

Source- Ceylon Today

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