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from The Trump Investigations Blog by Michael Novakhov – Review Of News And Opinions.
Sri Lankan officials have said the Islamist militant group National Thowheeth Jama’ath is responsible for Easter Sunday bombing attacks in the island nation that killed at least 290 people and injured 500 more.
Rajitha Senaratne, the country’s health minister, said the seven suicide bombers who carried out the attacks were Sri Lankan citizens affiliated with the domestic group, but that authorities suspect foreign ties as well. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded,” Senaratne said in a news conference.
The group has not claimed responsibility for the bombings so far.
Here’s what to know about the suspected group behind the attacks.
National Thowheeth Jama’ath is a newly formed group
Very little is known about National Thowheeth Jama’ath, according to Alan Keenan, a senior Sri Lanka analyst with the International Crisis Group.
Prior to Sunday’s attacks, the group was mainly linked with the vandalization of Buddhist statues in Sri Lanka in December, he tells TIME. Until Monday, when the Sri Lankan government named the group, Keenan had never heard of it as an official organization.
Keenan says it’s possible the group splintered off from the political organization “Sri Lanka Thowheeth Jama’ath,” which carries hardline views and anti-Buddhist sentiments. Keenan also notes that many organizations in Sri Lanka use the name “Thowheeth Jama’ath,” making it difficult to pinpoint the origins of the group.
The name roughly translates to “a group in the name of oneness of God.”
The highly coordinated nature of the attacks, which targeted Roman Catholic churches in the midst of Easter celebrations, luxury hotels and a housing development, suggests that the group could not have carried out the bombings without outside assistance, Keenan says.
Sri Lankan officials received warning about the attacks and the group
Authorities in Sri Lanka had received warnings about the attacks about two weeks ago, Senaratne said at a news conference. Sir Lanka’s police chief Pujith Jayasundara sent an intelligence alert earlier this month saying National Thowheeth Jama’ath was planning attacks, AFP reports.
“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” the alert read.
Sri Lankan police were on high alert for several days prior to the attacks, in fear that suicide bombers were targeting prominent churches, according to AFP.
Speaking to reporters, Senaratne said officials had received warnings but that the prime minister and others were “completely blind on the situation.” The New York Times reports that tensions over status between Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena were at least partly responsible for an error in communicating the warnings.
Wickremesinghe said Sunday that he and his cabinet had not received information about the warning, the Times reports.
“We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” he said.
The Times notes that a letter from a police official dated April 11 named National Thowheeth Jama’ath as the group believed to be planning the attacks, along with the names and addresses of some suspected members of the group.
Such attacks are unprecedented in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s complex past does not include a history of violence between Christians and Muslims in the country, Keenan says.
“Sri Lanka is a very complicated place. Generally, there has been tension and violence between pretty much everybody,” he said. “But Muslims as a community have been the most restrained and non-confrontational at all. That’s why this does not fit with previous dynamics.”
About 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, while 12.5% are Hindus. Muslims make up a little under 10% of the population, while about 7.5% are Christians. Predominantly Hindu Tamil insurgents fought for 26 years to establish independence from the government, dominated by the Sinhalese ethnic group, most of whom were Buddhists. The Tamil insurgents were defeated in 2009.
In recent years, violence in Sri Lanka has been propagated by Buddhist extremists, Keenan says. Hardline Buddhist groups, like Bodu Bala Sena, also known as Buddhist Power Force, has been accused of sowing hate and anti-Muslim violence.
World – TIME
President Donald Trump’s decision Monday to end six-month waivers from U.S. sanctions for five countries that have continued buying Iranian oil — the latest turn of the screw in his Administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran — was met with predictable outrage from Tehran.
But some U.S. State Department, Defense and intelligence officials and outside experts warn that the move could backfire by causing ripple effects in countries like China, Turkey and Iraq.
In response to the sanctions, Greece, Italy and, Taiwan had stopped buying Iranian oil, but China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey have continued to import Iranian oil. The economic pressure has reduced Iranian oil exports from more than 2.5 million barrels a day to less than 1 million, discouraged foreign investment, and sent the value of Iran’s currency plummeting and inflation soaring.
Announcing the move in a press briefing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the decision to end the waivers was “dramatically escalating our pressure campaign in a calibrated way that meets our national security objectives while maintaining well-supplied global oil markets”.
The Administration’s objective, Pompeo said, include prompt Iran to renegotiate the international agreement halting its pursuit of nuclear weapons, halt its ballistic missile tests, and end its support for terrorist groups, which U.S. officials say include Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Palestinian Hamas, Houthi militias in Yemen, and authoritarian regimes in Syria and Venezuela.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the move, and Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said his country and others would ensure that “the global oil market does not go out of balance.”
Some U.S. and foreign officials and outside experts, however, argue that the escalating attack on Iran’s economy is unlikely to prompt Iran to halt its support for terrorist organizations; force the country’s clerical rulers to renegotiate the deal halting their efforts to develop nuclear weapons; weaken its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite Quds Force; or turn everyday Iranians against the Islamic regime.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there,” says Aaron David Miller, a Mideast expert and vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “And what is the Trump Administration strategy toward Iran? Even if it’s regime change or forcing Iran to retrench in the region, this recent move will accomplish neither goal. It might ultimately goad Iran to give the Administration a pretext for military action. But how would this change the balance to America’s advantage?”
Instead, said two U.S. officials who spoke only to the condition of anonymity to criticize the Administration’s Iran policy, the Administration has not given much thought to the likely effects of its Iran policy on oil markets or on the nations, especially China, India, Turkey and Iraq, that now will be sanctioned if they continue to import oil from Iran.
“The Administration has launched a fairly significant initiative without doing the necessary groundwork with the countries that will be most affected,” Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at Washington’s Brookings Institution, tells TIME.
Iraq, which remains unstable, host to some remnants of ISIS, and divided on ethnic and religious lines 16 years after the U.S. invasion, is especially vulnerable because imports of Iranian natural gas and electricity are critical to its economy, she says.
Worse, says Maloney, the Administration had signaled since November that the exemptions for buying Iranian oil cut would be made gradually until it abruptly announced they will end on May 2.
Nor, says Maloney, does the Administration appear to have given much thought to how Iran might respond to the latest turn of the screw, which she says are likely to include efforts to disrupt global oil markets when demand reaches its peak this summer.
In a tweet, President Trump said: “Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC will more than make up the Oil Flow difference in our now Full Sanctions on Iranian oil.”
The two U.S. intelligence officials on Monday dismissed Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, but said Tehran could retaliate by disrupting Iraqi oil exports or launching cyberattacks on oil and gas production and export facilities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, or even U.S. or European oil companies, which could send oil prices upward during the vacation season in the U.S. and Western Europe.
The officials said the 2012 Shamoon virus attacks on Qatar’s RasGas and on the Saudi oil company Aramco — an attack then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called “probably the most destructive attack that the private sector has seen to date” — were traced to Iran.
Oil prices rose about 3 percent at midday on Monday, but remained far below their October high of $86 a barrel for the benchmark Brent crude.
World – TIME