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8 Of The 9 Suicide Bombers In Sri Lanka Blasts Are Identified


We're learning new details about the people who carried out the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. Police there made several arrests overnight, bringing the total number of suspects in custody to more than 75. One of Sri Lanka's wealthiest men may be among them. He is known as the Colombo spice tycoon, and he is the father of two of the nine bombers who blew themselves up in churches and hotels Sunday. Police say they have identified eight of the nine suicide bombers. Some of the men appear to have been educated and from middle-class families. Fawaz Gerges is with us now from London. He is the author of the book titled "ISIS: A History."

Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

FAWAZ GERGES: My pleasure.

MARTIN: ISIS claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka soon after they happened. But Sri Lanka did not have a history of Islamist extremism. Muslims there are a small minority. There wasn't an Islamist faction. What do you think explains these attacks?

GERGES: Well, I mean, I think even though Sri Lanka had no history of an Islamist insurgency, you have, obviously, members of the small Muslim community who subscribe to the ideology of ISIS. I think what we need to keep in mind - it takes one individual or a few individuals to, basically, do a great deal of harm. And this tells you a great deal about the potency of the ideology of the Islamic State. Even though the Islamic State - the Islamic caliphate, the physical caliphate - is no longer in Iraq and Syria, the organization is still out there. The ideology is very potent. It has thousands of followers worldwide. It has, basically, been able to restructure its forces. And it has the ability - it has the capacity to motivate members in a faraway country like Sri Lanka and carry out devastating attacks in the past, you know, few days.

MARTIN: Is there something particular about Sri Lanka - the society, culture or politics - that made it vulnerable to an attack like this or having sort of homegrown insurgents in this way?

GERGES: You know, hardly. The Muslim community in Sri Lanka is very tiny. There has been no major tensions between the tiny Muslim community and the Christian community. In fact, the tensions that have existed between the Muslim community and Sri Lanka are with the majority-Buddhist community. But, again, to come back to the idea, we really live in an age of extremism. You have extremist ideologies of the Muslim far-right and the Christian far-right, whether in New Zealand or whether in Sri Lanka, who subscribe to the clash of civilizations, whose violent actions are trying to really trigger a clash of religions. And here there are two major points we really need to tell our listeners today - first, that the killers in New Zealand and Sri Lanka do not speak for their religious communities. And politicians and commentators must really avoid the tendency to invest these bloody and terrible and hideous attacks with any religious and civilizational overtones.

MARTIN: Indeed. You mentioned New Zealand. Sri Lanka's state defense minister claims that the attacks we saw on Easter Sunday were revenge for the attacks on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Do you think that's plausible?

GERGES: I don't buy it. I don't buy any direct link between the attacks in Sri Lanka and the killings in New Zealand. First, you have nine suicide bombers who carried out attacks in three major cities. Imagine the logistical - I mean, infrastructure. It takes months, if not years, to plan for such major attacks. And remember; the statement put out by ISIS claiming responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks did not really mention, basically, New Zealand. Of course, there are similarities. There are similarities between the two attacks. Both attacks target religious minorities, both the Muslims in New Zealand and the Christians in Sri Lanka. And those are not really motivated by local concerns. They have a global audience in mind. They really would like to trigger a clash of civilizations.

MARTIN: And you're saying that even just the planning it would take to undertake these kinds of attacks that preceded the Christchurch bombings...

GERGES: Of course.

MARTIN: I want to ask you though what this means for ISIS's strength or the organization's ambitions going forward because, as you noted, they have lost physical ground in Iraq and Syria. Is this the first sign that they are reconstituting elsewhere?

GERGES: ISIS or the Islamic State has already reconstituted itself. It has basically returned to its insurgent roots. It has sleeping cells. It has thousands of followers worldwide. My take on it - sadly and tragically - the attacks in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, basically, might become the norm not the exception. We really live in an age of extremism.

MARTIN: Fawaz Gerges - he is author of the book "ISIS: A History." He is also a professor at the London School of Economics.

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on this. We really appreciate it.

GERGES: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.