Who Might Be Responsible for the Sri Lanka Attacks?


While it was Easter Sunday for many people around the world, it was a devastating Sunday for Sri Lanka, its citizens and tourists.  

At least 290 people, four of them Americans, died from a series of suicide bombings in churches and hotels. The majority of the attacks took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital city.

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With a number of questions still unanswered, one of the most pressing ones is, who did it?

“It’s much more likely it was the result of international terrorism than it is a local problem in Sri Lanka,” said Robert Pape, a professor of political science and director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago.

Pape said he’s studied more than 6,000 suicide attacks around the world and that from what he’s learned, Sunday’s bombings look a lot like the doings of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

“The attack profile of hitting westerners and churches does not fit the targeting profile of other Sri Lanka terrorist groups,” Pape said, referring to the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which attacked military and political targets during the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Instead, Pape said Sunday’s attacks are reminiscent of Al Qaeda’s operations in the early 2000s.

“When [the U.S.] drove Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan in fall 2001, a lot of people thought Al Qaeda was finished as an international terrorist group. But from 2002-2004, Al Qaeda carried out 15 suicide attacks around the world,” he said.

“You’re very likely seeing the same thing again where the more we defeated the group, there’s an aftermath that can go on for years,” he said.

In this case, he said he believes that group is ISIS.

“As [the U.S. has] defeated ISIS as a territorial enemy in Iraq and Syria, the group has been fleeing. [Sunday’s attacks are] most likely a result of that reversed diaspora,” he said.

Pape joins us in discussion.


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