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Editorial: Sri Lanka attacks show measures needed to stem extremism

A spate of terrorist bombing attacks targeting churches and upscale hotels in Colombo and other areas in Sri Lanka over the weekend have left more than 300 people dead, including a Japanese national, and over 500 others injured.

The Easter attacks apparently targeted Christians and foreigners, and the death toll of foreign nationals has topped 30. Some media reports say a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a crowded hotel restaurant. These actions are intolerable, abominable acts of crime.

Major terror attacks targeting foreigners were not seen even during the civil war in Sri Lanka that lasted until 2009. Authorities suspect that Islamic extremists were behind the latest bombings. It is quite an alarming situation if new extremism has crossed the seas and infiltrated into the island country.

The civil war was a political struggle between the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese and mostly Hindu Tamils. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Tamil militant group, repeatedly unleashed bombing attacks, but it was eventually defeated and disbanded in 2009. Security in Sri Lanka had since remained relatively stable.

Prior to the April 21 deadly attacks, Sri Lankan authorities had been tipped off that a domestic Islamic militant group was planning suicide bombings at churches. As the group is small, however, its activities had been low-profile in the country, where Muslims comprise a minority.

Sri Lankan State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said that the weekend attacks were carried out by a religious extremist group, and 40 people have thus far been detained in connection with the bombings. Yet many believe that the group acted in collaboration with an international organization.

One must ponder how extremism had made its way into Sri Lanka. There were reports that dozens of Sri Lankan nationals had joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group, but it is unknown whether they had returned home.

Authorities need to examine if the ideology of waging a "war on the West" on a global scale once advocated by the international terrorist group al-Qaida and the IS was behind the latest attacks. In Bangladesh, a local radical group with influence from the IS was behind the 2016 terror attacks in the capital Dhaka, in which seven Japanese nationals were killed at a restaurant.

South Asian countries have a long history of religious conflict. Experts say extremist ideologies find it easier to infiltrate and permeate into those regions. We are urged to come up with an array of measures to stem extremism from gripping the world with fear.

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