His Warning Could Have Stopped Sri Lanka Easter Attack. Now He Lies In The Hospital
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This next story is about a man who is either an unsung hero to his country or a snitch. He's been called both. He is from Sri Lanka, an island nation where suicide bombers killed more than 250 people at hotels and churches last Easter. This man knew the attackers and suspected what they were planning. But when he tried to intervene, he became a target. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from a small town in central Sri Lanka.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: As soon as Fatima Jannath welcomes me into her mud brick home, she bursts into tears...
FATIMA JANNATH: (Speaking Tamil).
FRAYER: ...And begins to tell me her husband's story. Sri Lanka's mostly Buddhist. Fatima's family is Muslim. And her husband, Mohammad Taslim, was on the town council. Last year, he was asked to investigate the vandalism of some Buddhist statues. He soon heard rumours about two brothers, Sadiq and Shaheed Abdul-Haq. Neighbors said they'd become radicalized and were stockpiling weapons. Mohammad alerted police but they didn't arrest the brothers.
JANNATH: (Speaking Tamil).
FRAYER: A few weeks later, Fatima recalls, an ominous message popped up on Facebook calling Mohammad a snitch. A few days after that, Fatima woke up with a start at 4:15 in the morning.
JANNATH: (Through interpreter) I heard a loud pop. I rolled over in bed toward my husband. His eyes were wide open, but he couldn't dunk. There was blood on the pillow. Then I saw two men running out of the house, and I started screaming. My worst fears were confirmed.
MARTIN: Mohammad had been shot, point-blank, in his right temple.
JANNATH: (Speaking Tamil).
FRAYER: Fatima says she immediately suspected the Abdul-Haq brothers and told that to police. But when police went to the brothers' house that day, they were gone. It wasn't for another month, after suicide bombers killed more than 250 people on Easter, that police finally arrested the Abdul-Haq brothers. But it wasn't for shooting Mohammad. Those weapons he'd tried to warn them about? Authorities believe they were used in the Easter attacks. The Abdul-Haq brothers are now awaiting trial for allegedly assisting those suicide bombers. And they face additional charges for the attempted murder of Mohammad Taslim - attempted because nine months after he was shot, Mohammad is alive, in a hospital under police protection.
Can you walk?
MOHAMMAD TASLIM: Can't. Left.
FRAYER: His left side is paralyzed. He says it was in this hospital bed that he got news of the Easter bombings.
TASLIM: (Through interpreter) I was devastated because the police had arrested the brothers when I first alerted them, none of this would have happened. I wouldn't be in this hospital bed. Even if they arrested them after I was shot, they could have saved the lives of more than 250 people.
FRAYER: There were other missed warnings. The U.S. and India had both alerted Sri Lanka of an imminent attack, but the president and prime minister were bickering. The government failed to keep the military in the loop. Ten years ago, Sri Lanka defeated terrorism by ethnic Tamil separatists in the country's civil war. But a new Islamist threat was barely on officials' radar.
JEHAN PERERA: These groups, maybe they themselves didn't know how serious it was. That's the charitable explanation.
FRAYER: Analyst Jehan Perera says there was negligence and incompetence. Sri Lanka's intelligence chief has since resigned. But there were also failures in local policing. Most of Sri Lanka's Muslims are Tamils. They were on the losing side of the civil war. Many politicians have since sought to win over Muslims by respectfully trying to stay out of their affairs, Perera says.
PERERA: Muslim radicalization was a intra-Muslim phenomenon. One set of Muslims are fighting another other set of Muslims, and therefore there is no need for the state to get involved. The Muslim politicians are powerful, so the government didn't want to antagonize them.
FRAYER: The government would instead ask civilians like Mohammad Taslim to investigate his own community. And when he came back with rumors, authorities were reluctant to act. Since the Easter attacks, Sri Lanka has seen anti-Muslim riots. Mosques have been attacked. And last month, the country elected a new president, a former military man who crushed separatists at the end of the civil war.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Unintelligible).
FRAYER: Nowadays, Mohammad's brother-in-law, Shiraz, babysits their three boys so that Fatima can visit her husband in the hospital.
SHIRAZ: She's growing every day, medicine - every day going, come back.
FRAYER: So your sister is visiting her husband, taking care of him. And have government ministers visited him, the president, the prime minister?
SHIRAZ: President no coming here.
FRAYER: Phone calls?
FRAYER: One Muslim government minister has been sending a bit of money, but Shiraz says his family is mostly just an embarrassing reminder to the government of its own failure. The family now wants to leave Sri Lanka out of fear for Mohammad's safety and for better medical treatment, which Mohammad will likely need for the rest of his life. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, in Mawanella, Sri Lanka. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.