Barely a month after United States-backed Syrian fighters declared that the caliphate of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had been eliminated, Asia witnessed its deadliest terrorist attack in recent years. Eight blasts, seven in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and one on its eastern coast, claimed at least 359 lives and left over 500 injured on Easter Sunday. The government put the blame on National Thowheeth Jama'ath but also asserted that this little-known local group could not have carried out an attack of such scale and sophistication without outside help. The needle of suspicion points to ISIS, which has released a video claiming that the attackers were its foot soldiers. If true, the ruthlessly planned and coordinated attacks are a harsh reminder that the brutal militant group remains lethal, seeking the fuel of publicity and exploiting societal fault lines to propagate its ideology of hate. To governments around the world, the clear message from Sri Lanka is that the caliphate may have been razed, but the war against terrorism is far from over.
Terrorism has instead grown a more sinister face, its horror amplified through social media. Soon after the attacks, the Sri Lankan government curtailed access to Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and other platforms as it tried to stem the flow of misinformation that could have spiralled into more violence. A wise decision, especially when the world is still recovering from the brazen live broadcast of the massacre in New Zealand's mosques last month. Days of bloodshed are not far from public memory in Sri Lanka, which saw over 100,000 casualties during the 26 years of the Tamil Tiger insurgency. That civil war, which ended a decade ago, was along ethnic lines.