Not many people were aware of Sri Lanka’s problems with Islamist militancy until the Easter Sunday bombings when bombs were planted in churches and hotels, which killed more than 200 people. However, one man that did, was Mohammad Razak Taslim. Police believe Taslim was the first victim of the extremist group who went on to kill around 250 people in a series of suicide bombings on Easter Sunday, earlier this year.
Taslim, a 37-year-old local politician, has been at the forefront of extremist investigations many months before the bombings took place. His story shows how the country’s Muslim community actively tried to stop the emergence of radical extremism. However, it also shows how the authorities failed to recognise repeated warning signs of the Easter attacks which allowed them to go ahead. The town of Mawanella, where Taslim is from, is just a few hours drive east of the capital, Colombo. The majority of the population in the town is of Buddhist and Muslim religions.
Taslim was a prominent member of the community and always helped out when he could. So, naturally, when a number of Buddhist statues were vandalised, he stepped up to help investigate the crimes. While police did make a number of arrests in regards to the desecration of the statues, the chief suspects, two brothers – Sadiq and Shaheed Abdul-Haq, disappeared off the face of the Earth, nowhere to be found.
Taslim continued to say in contact with the police long after the two brothers went on the run. Not much were found and the pair had seemingly vanish. However, in January, detectives contacted Taslim and said that they had received new and frankly, quite shocking, information during the interrogation of some of those suspected of vandalising the Buddhist statues.
Taslim and detectives travelled to a coconut grove in the north-west of the country where it was believed that there was a stash of explosives hidden about 100 miles away. There, they made a shocking discovery – nearly 100kg of explosives, detonators, tents and a camera. According to Taslim’s wife, he was concerned that there was more explosives out there. He was right.
This should have been the first clue to the authorities that, due to the volume of explosives found, a jihadist attack was imminent. However, it seems that it wasn’t regarded as a very high priority and was just pushed down. It was later revealed that the explosives found on the farmland were directly linked to those that were used in the Easter bombings.
Despite all the signs, everyone ignored the facts. To make matters worse, Taslim was considered to be a threat by the extremists and someone ordered him killed. Just over a month before the Easter attacks, a gunman quietly entered Taslim’s house in the early hours of the morning and fired a single shot into his head. Taslim’s wife awoke to the sound and her first thought was that the phone charger had exploded. However, are looking over at her husband and smelling the gunpowder, she realised he was unconscious and thought he was dead. Luckily, he survived. However, he is now paralysed down one side of his body and it’s unclear if he will ever fully recover.
That was the second clear sign that extremist groups were operating in the country, which everyone ignored and hundreds of people sadly lost their lives in the Easter Sunday bombings. A tragedy which could have possibly been avoided.