BENGALURU: Just days after Sri Lanka’s army chief Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake made a startling revelation that some of the suicide bombers involved in the Easter terror attack had travelled to Kashmir, Kerala and Bengaluru “for some sort of training”, Indian investigating agencies have confirmed that two of them did, in fact, visit India in 2012 on business visas. But they have refuted that the duo had received any kind of training.
Lieutenant General Senanayake had even made a reference to the civil war in his country with the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam saying there had been too much peace in the last 10 years.
The investigations into the Easter terror attack now seems to have become a sticking point in the bilateral relations.
Two of the Sri Lankan suicide bombers, Ilham Ahmed Mohammad Ebrahim and his older brother Inshaf Ahmed, who had led the fidayeen attacks in Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand Hotel which claimed 253 lives and injured more than 500 people, had travelled to Bengaluru, Kochi, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi with valid passports on business.
Their father Mohammed Ibrahim, who was subsequently arrested, is a spice tycoon and his company Ishana Exports Pvt Ltd, based in Colombo, is listed in Trade India’s list of verified exporters offering quality spices and copper tubes, top sources in central intelligence agencies said.
“Ishana has business interests in various cities — from Kerala to Delhi. Seven years ago, Inshaf and Ilham had come on a business trip. They neither visited Kashmir nor did they participate in any training camp in India as has been alleged by the Sri Lankan army chief,” the source said.
Highly placed sources have also told TNIE that Sri Lanka has not yet shared any leads or information that link that attackers to India or their travel.
However, they did not deny that investigation agencies have asked for those inputs. In fact, Indian agencies have sought information from their counterparts in the island nation on the timeline and travel details of the terrorists to India along with their photographs. “Since the army chief has made a specific statement on the travel of some of the suicide bombers to India, they should be in possession of the information, which is critical for the security of the region. Sri Lanka has so far not provided any details. Hence, it (Senanayeke’s statement) remains in a realm of speculation,” said a highly placed source.
India had in early April cautioned Sri Lanka about terror attacks on churches and its high commission in Colombo and had shared the travel itinerary of Hashim Zahran, the head of the suicide squad of the now banned National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), to Pakistan in 2018. “Hashim had gone to Pakistan to meet an agent to help him find a foothold in Kashmir to spread the ISIS ideology. But he had not travelled to Kashmir,” the officer added.
“The ethnic, historical and diplomatic relationship between Sri Lanka and India continues to be fragile with deepening interests of China and Pakistan in Colombo and New Delhi’s own interest in South Asia. The blame game between the two continues and memories of an earlier attempt to broker peace between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, which ended in disaster with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by the Tigers in 1991, remain raw,” said the officer.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is investigating ISIS-related cases in India, has made 14 arrests so far from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
“ISIS has links with the NTJ. The module in South India has largely been radicalised by Hashim Zahran. The NTJ may have some fringe sympathisers in India, who are under watch,” said the officer.