The violent incident that took place in Sri Lanka on Sunday has been the largest terrorist attack in recent times. So far no international outfit or any group within Sri Lanka has claimed responsibility for the attacks. However, evidence indicates the attacks were carried out by a religion-based group, though their identity remains unclear.
Only recently there was an attack on Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. There was a high death toll there too. Extremists remain staunch in their ideology and try to propagate their beliefs through their actions.
We need to learn certain lessons from the Sri Lanka incident. Sri Lanka has not seen any such violence over the last decade after its civil war ended and so their internal security had become lax to an extent.
Apparently there had been a warning about such an attack, but their authorities did not take up the required security measures. They failed to use the advance information about the attack. There was a lack of coordination. One quarter of the government received the information but this was not disseminated among the other quarters pertaining to law, order and security. This was also an intelligence failure.
In Sri Lanka, Easter Sunday is not just a religious occasion, it is a social event too where people of all faiths join in. It is such a big event that special security measures were imperative.
Coming to the Bangladesh scenario, after the Holey Artisan militant attack, there has been no significant terrorist incident over the past couple of years. This has led to a degree of complacence among certain institutions and agencies. Such complacence leads to risk. Terrorists take advantage of this, just as they did in Sri Lanka. After the civil war they imagined nothing else would happen. And here, initially after the Holey Artisan attack, everyone was on alert, but now that has diminished. Everyone must be on alert once again.
The law enforcement agencies need to review their coordination among each other. In the case of any advance indications of such terrorist incident, there needs to be information sharing among the local agencies and forces, as well as with foreign and international agencies where there are provisions for cooperation in this regard.
It must be ascertained as to whether any regional groups were involved in the Sri Lanka attack. We must be alert about this too. After all, such incidents may be aided and abetted from outside.
Globally, international terrorist groups are under pressure. They will be searching for soft targets. Christchurch in New Zealand was a soft target. Sri Lanka was somewhat a soft target. So there needs to be a fresh assessment of wherever there are such soft targets.
In our assessment of the New Zealand incident, we had felt there may be some sort of backlash. International militant groups would call to their fighters all over to take revenge. Bangladesh must be on alert against any such terrorism. It seems quite logical to assume that the Sri Lanka attack is one of revenge. A year ago there had been riots between Buddhists and Muslims there. The possibility of this recent violence being a fallout of those riots, cannot be dismissed.
It is imperative that in our country a thorough assessment is done to ensure there are no gaps in security. The five-star hotels in our country do not seem to have adequate security. Fresh assessment needs to be made of security at these hotels and other vulnerable establishments. Our airports also need to tighten security significantly. There can be no gaps in the collection of information, coordination and caution by our intelligence agencies.
* ANM Muniruzzaman is a retired military officer and president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS). This piece appeared in Bangla in the print edition of Prothom Alo has been translated into English by Ayesha Kabir.