Police officers in St. Sebastian's Church, in Negombo, Sri Lanka, Easter Day, 2019
Athit Perawongmetha / REUTERS

The series of suicide bombings at Christian churches and hotels in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, on Easter Sunday threatened to rip apart the country’s complex ethno-religious fabric. The government has blamed the attacks on two obscure Islamist groups called the Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim and the National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ). It appears the latter has links to jihadists outside Sri Lanka, including the Islamic State, or ISIS. If that attribution bears out, the attacks are likely to inflame tensions between the country’s Buddhist majority and its Muslim minority—and to promote sectarianism in the wider region, too.


Sri Lanka is no stranger to terrorism, having lived through a nearly three-decade-long civil war that pitted the majority Sinhalese against minority Tamil separatist organizations, most notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. During the war, the LTTE carried out dozens of suicide attacks. But last weekend’s carnage was unprecedented. The bombs killed over 300 people and injured at least 500 more.

Sri Lanka’s Muslim community has long bridled at the austere, Wahabi-influenced practices the NTJ propounds. But aside from making the news last year for desecrating some statues of the Buddha, the NTJ was hardly known to non-Muslims in Sri

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  • NEIL DEVOTTA is a Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University.
  • SUMIT GANGULY is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington.     
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