Abu Shuraih Seylani

Several more Sri Lankan nationals are known to be fighting for the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria while the group also had some sympathizers inside the country, a senior intelligence official told The Nation. The official was responding to a query regarding activities of the intelligence community following reports that a Sri Lankan ISIS fighter had been killed in an airstrike in Syria on July 12.

Speaking on grounds of anonymity, the official said intelligence services were currently tracking the movements of the individuals both here and abroad. “As for local sympathizers, their level of involvement (with ISIS) and in what capacity is something the government will have to look into,” the source stressed.

The dead fighter, known inside ISIS by his nom de guerre Abu Shuraih Seylani, is thought to be a 37-year-old karate master from Galewela, Kandy. He had served as a principal of an international school in the area before leaving the country last year after telling his family he was going to Turkey to engage in relief work for victims of Syria’s civil war.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has ordered an inquiry on reports of a Sri Lankan ISIS member being killed. Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Thursday said authorities had been ordered to trace the man’s family and obtain more information.

At least one other Sri Lankan, going by the ISIS nom de guerre Abu Dhujaana Seylani, is also thought to be with ISIS in Syria.

The intelligence official however, noted that ISIS sympathizers within the country at present was a ‘very small element’, but cautioned that if the group was allowed to develop, it could pose a serious national security threat.

The source also confirmed that ISIS had mainly been using social media to lure young recruits from Sri Lanka to its cause. Some of these people are thought to have made their way to Syria afterwards, where ISIS has established its so-called ‘Caliphate’, which also includes parts of Iraq.

“While we are currently trying to track these individuals both here and abroad, there needs to be a long-term strategy and coordination at international level to counter the threat,” the official said.

Pointing out that “social media had no boundaries,” the official opined it was time that people started speaking of social media in a negative aspect as well. “There has to be a mechanism with the participation of all communities to ensure that extremism of any form does not take root”.