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More ISIS threats against India and Sri Lanka -- Indian Intelligence Warns

India and Sri Lanka are likely to fall under the threat with terror group ISIS turning its attention to the Indian Ocean Region in the wake of losses across Syria and Iraq, Indian intelligence reports have warned.

According to NDTV, Three letters sent by the state intelligence to top Kerala police officials have hinted at the possibility of such a development.

"After loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, IS is urging operatives to take up violent forms of jihad while staying back in their respective countries," one of the letters accessed by NDTV read.

Another letter circulated less than a fortnight ago quoted intelligence inputs as saying that "key installations in Kochi, including a prominent shopping mall, could become ISIS targets".

It went on to cite increased ISIS-related cyber-activity in the country as signs of terror attacks to come.

Senior officials cited Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kashmir as the states most vulnerable to the ISIS influence in the country.

While the Telegram Messenger was a preferred mode of communication among ISIS operatives until now, fear of information leak has now forced them to use other secure apps such as Chatsecure, Signal and SilentText, one of the letters was quoted as saying according to NDTV.

According to a senior police officer, at least 100 people are believed to have joined ISIS from Kerala in the last few years.

Around 3,000 have been "de-radicalised" at 21 counselling centres across the southern state and are now being monitored, he said, adding that most of these suspects hail from north Kerala.

District police chiefs have been told to strengthen internal security cells while around 10 to 12 online honey traps have been put in place to identify radicalised police personnel in Kerala.

As many as 30 people linked to various groups have come under the scanner ever since co-ordinated blasts killed more than 250 people in Sri Lanka on April 21, a top police officer confirmed.

New Books: Heroes or Villains? The Blair Government Reconsidered

by Jon Davis and John Rentoul

“Combining first-hand sources and independent judgement, this is the first book on the Blair-Brown years which moves beyond journalism, biography and memoir to being the first draft of history”Ed Balls

Tony Blair bequeathed a significant legacy, including a settlement in Northern Ireland, revived public services and a changed society. He was globally influential, a persuasive and activist leader. Yet he will always be associated with his decision to join US President George W. Bush in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Most prime ministers are unpopular when they leave office, but his reputation continued to decline in the years after. Iraq was clearly one of the most important reasons for this, but it was only part of a progression by which Blair went from Olympian heights of popularity and electoral success to becoming toxic for many in the UK.

By attempting to answer some of the most contentious, complicated and unanswered questions of the Blair government, by giving an account of how it worked, and giving due weight to the testimony of the very people who operated within it, Davis and Rentoul seek to provide a balanced account of how decisions were made. The Blair government was far from perfect but is Blair’s reputation as a bad prime minister a fair one? Is it not time for the record of the Blair government to be reconsidered and eventually rebalanced?

Drawing on a wealth ofnever-seen-before, first-handtestimony from many of the key players (including Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson, Ed Balls, David Blunkett, Tessa Jowell, and a host of senior civil servants), Heroes or Villains?is a considered,fair, and balancedaccount of the rise and fall of New Labour from its hopeful origins, via boom and bust, to Blair’s retirement in 2007.

Tracing the evolution of Blairite policy across the spectrum, from health and education to the liberal interventionist foreign policy that led to involvement in Iraq, the book charts the difficult relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and illuminates the struggles between 'Blairites' and 'Brownites', as well as the equally important tussles between New Labour ministers and their civil service colleagues. It provides an assessment of the criticisms of how Blair ran his administration, focusing on the machinery of government and on the criticisms of decision making at the centre.

Sally Morgan, Director of Government Relations,“The most serious conversations I’ve ever had with him about whether or when he should go were in 2002 not 2004. Because in 2002 he was very seriously sitting down saying, “Is there a case for me announcing that I should go at the next election?”

Sir John Holmes, principal private secretary to the Prime Minister, and previously private secretary to John Major: ““I think this stuff about sofa government is highly overdone. I mean, yes,he [Blair] did have a more informal style but the idea that before thatwhat really counted was Cabinet meetings and Cabinet Committees is bollocks.”

“For me personally, and for many civil servants at the heart of the government’s policy agenda, the Blair years were some of the best of our careers.” Sir David Normington, senior civil servant to the Home Office

“Gordon was not the leader Tony was” – Ed Balls, former Economic Secretary to the Treasury
Tony Blair, when asked in 2011 to reflect on how he reacted to 9/11 ten years earlier: “If I knew then what I know now then I would take a far deeper approach to deal with the international terrorism situation…”

Dr Jon Davis is Director of The Strand Group at The Policy Institute, King's College London, and author of Prime Ministers and Whitehall (2007). He is the lecturer and coordinator of several otherteaching modules including 'The History of the Prime Minister since 1945—in partnership withNo. 10 DowningSt', and 'The Treasury and an Introduction to Economic History—in partnership with HM Treasury'. He worked as an investment banker before turning to an academic career, and also spent a year in the Cabinet Office's Modernising Government Secretariat.

John Rentoul is Chief Political Commentator for The Independent, Visiting Professor at King'sCollege, London, and the author of an acclaimed biography of Tony Blair. He has previously beena political reporter at The Independent, the BBC, and the New Statesman. Together with his co-authorJon Davis, he ran the Blair Government course at Queen Mary, from 2008 to 2014.

The Blair Years (Kings College London)

The MA module, taught since 2016 at King’s College, London (previously at Queen Mary, University of London) examines how Tony Blair’s New Labour Governments from 1997-2007 governed at the highest level from the perspective of ultra-contemporary history. Special attention is given to the memoirs and diaries of central protagonists, and a high-profile range of guests allow students to fully interrogate their sources face-to-face. The course is taught by Dr Jon Davis, John Rentoul, and Michelle Clement.

For further information, visit The Blair Years course.


• The Blair-Brown Coalition
• Sofa
• Spin, Spads, and Sir Humphreys
• The Treasury: The Brown-Balls Partnership
• The Iraq War

New Books: Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History

by Trevor Bryce

"Bryce’s Syria has few dull moments, and many gripping tales to tell.” – Paul Cartledge, BBC History Magazine

Syria is known in our contemporary times as a hotbed of political instability, religious extremism and international tension. Trevor Bryce looks beyond the troubles of the present to examine the peoples, cities, and kingdoms that arose, flourished and declined in the lands that now constitute Syria. This comprehensive history of the country spans the time of its earliest written records in the third millennium BC until the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 3-4th century AD.

Bryce’s history of Syria provides a uniquely human focus. From the Ebla tablets to the Muslim conquest, including Queen Zenobia’s Palmyrian Empire, the annals of Syria’s first three millennia are brought to us through a series of individual protagonists. Characters who, illustrious or infamous, indigenous heroes or foreign overlords, succeeded one another on the lands’ political and military stage. Together, they give us a compelling picture of Syrian civilization over the centuries: Hittite and Assyrian Great Kings; Egyptian pharaohs; Amorite robber-barons; the biblically notorious Nebuchadnezzar; Persia's Cyrus the Great and Macedon's Alexander the Great; the rulers of the Seleucid empire; and an assortment of Rome's most distinguished and most infamous emperors.

Syria has always been a place of exchange, encounter and confrontation. Bryce utilises an impressive range of archaeological, historical and literary materials to reconcile us with the rich and complex history of what is often called the “cradle of human civilization”.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Trevor Bryce is an Honorary Research Consultant in the University of Queensland, and an Emeritus Professor of the University of New England, Australia, where he was Professor of Classics and Ancient History. Although trained as a Classicist, most of his research has been conducted in the field of Near Eastern history and civilization, with some emphasis also on the links between the Classical and Near Eastern worlds. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Near Eastern history, including The World of the Neo-Hittite Kingdoms (2012) and Babylonia: A Very Short Introduction (2016), also published by Oxford University Press.

New Books: Useful Enemies

Islam and The Ottoman Empire in Western Political Thought, 1450-1750

by Noel Malcolm

From the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the 18thcentury, many Western European writers viewed the Ottoman Empire with almost obsessive interest. Typically they reacted to it with fear and distrust; and such feelings were reinforced by the deep hostility of Western Christendom towards Islam. Yet there was also much curiosity about the social and political system on which the huge power of the sultans was based. In the 16th century, especially, when Ottoman territorial expansion was rapid and Ottoman institutions seemed particularly robust, there was even open admiration.

In his ground-breaking new book Noel Malcolm ranges through these vital centuries of East-West interaction, studying all the ways in which thinkers in the West interpreted the Ottoman Empire as a political phenomenon - and Islam as a political religion. He shows how the concept of 'oriental despotism' began as an attempt to turn the tables on a very positive analysis of Ottoman state power, and how, as it developed, it interacted with Western debates about monarchy and government. Noel Malcolm also shows how a negative portrayal of Islam as a religion devised for political purposes was assimilated by radical writers, who extended the criticism to all religions, including Christianity itself.

Examining the works of many famous thinkers (including Machiavelli, Bodin, and Montesquieu) as well as lesser well-known ones, Useful Enemies illuminates the long-term development of Western ideas about the Ottomans, and about Islam. It shows how these ideas became intertwined with internal Western debates about power, religion, society, and war. Discussions of Islam and the Ottoman Empire were thus bound up with mainstream thinking in the West on a wide range of important topics.

As Malcolm sums up, “To study the history of Western ideas about Islam and Ottoman Empire in this period may help us to understand some of the origins, or at least the development, of Western prejudices that have had long subsequent histories. But it should also show us something else: that the early modern Europeans viewed the government and religion of their powerful Eastern neighbours with a whole gamut of attitudes, from fear and fierce disapproval to fascination, admiration and envy.  For many Western thinkers, the Ottoman Empire and Islam played an important part in their own mental world, not as mere ‘others’ to be put in their subordinate place nor simply as threats to be conceptually isolated and neutralized, but as active ingredients to be worked into their theories. Western political thought, in this period, was in the West and for the West, but never exclusively about the West. The East was not only too important to be ignored; it was too interesting – and most of all, too useful.”

Noel Malcolm began his career as Fellow of Gonville& Caius College, Cambridge. He went on to become Foreign Editor at the Spectator then chief political columnist at the Daily Telegraph. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, was knighted for services to scholarship, journalism, and European history in 2014 and has publishedwidely on, among other subjects, early modern philosophy, and the history and culture of the Balkans, especially during the Ottoman period.

Islamic preacher warned by India

Peace TV man Zakir Naik is facing charges on money laundering. 

Special Prevention of Money-Laundering Act (PMLA) court has ordered Zakir Naik to physically appear on July 31, failing to which non-bailable warrant would be issued against him.

This came after Enforcement Directorate (ED) sought a non-bailable warrant against the controversial Islamic preacher.

Naik is facing charges on money laundering. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a prosecution complaint against Naik, who is believed to be in Malaysia.

The agency filed the prosecution complaint under the PMLA before a special court in Mumbai and said it has identified proceeds of crime worth Rs 193.06 crore.

Naik was booked by the ED in 2016 based on a National Investigation Agency (NIA) FIR.

In addition, he is also facing charges of inciting communal disharmony and committing unlawful activities in India. He is also facing probe both in India and Bangladesh in connection with the terror attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka in July 2016. The two suspects in the terror attack had claimed that they were inspired by Naik's radical preaching.

Forked road in Sri Lanka

In a conflict between parallel enquiries into the Easter bombings, the question of accountability will be drowned. The Sirisena Government can’t evade tough questions by vilifying Muslims

by Ashok K Mehta

Two months after the Easter bombings, while the dots have been connected, accountability is still playing truant. Besides others, India had alerted Sri Lanka on April 4, 10, 16, 20 and 21 but incredibly, security agencies in Colombo took no action. On this page, after the horrendous bombings, this writer had called the catastrophic event a mystery.

Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of what was once a National Unity Government of two rival parties have said they received no official information on terror attacks. Sirisena is the Minister for Defence and Minister for Law and Order, which place all intelligence, defence, security and police agencies under his command. The Minister of State for Defence for good optics is in Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet. While Sirisena has ordered a presidential commission to investigate the bombings, the powerful speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, has appointed a parliamentary select committee (PSC) for enquiry. The PSC has had public hearings aired on television which has upset the President, who has since prohibited all serving defence, intelligence and security officials from testifying before it. It has been boycotted by Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, who was forced to resign, told the PSC that intelligence was available on April 9 of a possible threat on April 21 and had assumed that Sri Lanka’s state intelligence services chief would have informed the President as was the practice. He added that as Defence Secretary, he could not meet the President — not even once in two weeks — as he had no time. The shocker was the revelation that Sirisena had told Fernando not to invite the Prime Minister, MoS for Defence and Inspector General Police, Pujith Jayasundara for National Security Council meetings since November 13, 2018, following the Constitutional crisis in which Sirisena had sacked Wickremesinghe and appointed Opposition leader and his presidential rival, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Prime Minister, which was later revoked by the courts.

IGP Jayasundara, who refused to resign, was suspended by the President and moved the courts, told the PSC that prior intelligence was available, giving specific details about the catastrophic intelligence failure adding: “No emergency was declared.” He said Sirisena offered him an ambassadorial post for his resignation, assuring him that the presidential commission would clear his name. Jayasundara struck the final nail in the coffin by saying there was “total unpreparedness of Government to act on intelligence reports.”

The head of national intelligence, Sisira Mendis, a former police chief who reported directly to the President, testifying before the PSC said that the bombings could have been averted. Mendis also said that the President failed to hold regular security meetings to assess the threat from Islamic radicals linked to National Towheed Jamaat (NTJ). Sirisena has dismissed Mendis.

Linked to the suicide bombings is the revelation that in 2018, the premier spy agency, state intelligence chief, Nilantha Jayewardene, ordered the IGP to stop investigating Islamic militants as well as NTJ. He also did not take seriously the information provided by India on the radical NTJ. While in India for Prime Minister Modi’s swearing in, Sirisena said there was no proof that the bombers visited India, contradicting Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake, who told BBC that they did go to India for training. Clearing himself of any responsibility for the intelligence failures, Sirisena said: “I was in Sri Lanka upto April 16 before going to Singapore on a private visit. None of the defence Chiefs informed me of any such intelligence”.

All that one wished to know about the nine suicide bombers is now in the public domain. Zahran Hashim, the radical preacher linked to NTJ from Kattankudy in Batticaloa, which has Sri Lanka’s biggest mosque, was the ring leader. How the suicide bomber inside Taj Samudra hotel panicked, walked out and blew himself up along with two others in a small hotel in Dehiwala suburb of Colombo is well-known. None of the nine bombers was impoverished, physically or mentally challenged, but all highly educated and affluent, two of them millionaires and all roped in by Hashim. It was a small group connected with Hashim.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s capacity to self-destruct may be hurtling it towards another ethnic conflict. The majority Sinhala Buddhists, spearheaded by the clergy and political Opposition, have demonised the Muslims. Anti-Muslim riots, surpassing in scale the worst ones in 2018 in Digana, have occurred after the bombings. A false narrative of hatred and prejudice is being spread against Muslims. Fake tales about swords stored in mosques and mass sterilisation of Sinhalese by a Muslim doctor are being circulated.

Vilification of Muslims will further divide society as Muslims live across the country. Calling for unity among communities, it was disingenuous on part of Sirisena to warn them of the emergence of a Muslim Prabhakaran, an avoidable simile to the dreaded Tamil supremo of the LTTE who fought an ethnic conflict for three decades, ending 2009.

The mass resignation of two Muslim Governors and nine Ministers to enable the Government to conduct investigations, clearing them of linkages to suicide bombings, has opened a new front. Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) envoys based in Colombo have appealed to the Government to protect Muslims and their properties.

The presidential pardon to reactionary monk Gnanasara Thero, who was implicated in the anti-Muslim violence of 2018 and stormed a court hearing old cases of “enforced disappearances”, will add fuel to fire. Rumours against Muslims and anti-Muslim riots are a smoke screen to shift focus from the presidential and parliamentary enquiries to resurgent Sinhala Buddhist extremism directed at Muslims. The Government is drafting a legislation to change Muslim laws dealing with burqa, hijab, halal, mosques and madrasas in consultation with Muslim clergy and leadership.

The question of accountability will be drowned in the conflict between parallel enquiries reflecting the breakdown of the co-habitation Government. Why did Sirisena not know about the intended bombings and why did intelligence and security forces fail to act? Sirisena can only be investigated after January 2020 by a new President. But the broken-down Government cannot afford to wait to be fixed till after the elections.

The ultimate irony for Sri Lanka was when Wickremesinghe, after a meeting with Modi, who was on a five-hour visit to Colombo this month, sought India’s help in counter-terrorism. Since 2009 after vanquishing LTTE, Colombo has proudly showcased its unique prowess and skills in eliminating root and branch, terrorism in the 21st century — a historic first!

(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the revamped Integrated Defence Staff)