EASTER SUNDAY BOMB BLAST IN SRI LANKA Part 5
Posted on May 11th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The attitude of Yahapalana government to the bomb blast threat raises many questions. Yahapalana had known that something was going on, but had not taken action.

President Sirisena was asked whether the Government was aware that there were local Muslims with ISIS links, prior to the attacks. The President said that there was information about several individuals, but not enough evidence to apprehend them or to confirm that they were attached to the ISIS.

 For the last four years, these names came up at the National Security Council meetings. However, there were no revelations that they possessed weapons or bombs or planned attacks. They had been going out of the country frequently. We cannot remand anybody without proper evidence,” he added. Another excuse offered was that the Emergency Laws were not in place.

The government had known that Sri Lankan nationals who had joined the Islamic State had returned to the country, but they could not be arrested, because   joining a foreign terrorist organization is not against the law,   said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, blandly.

“We have no laws which enable us take into custody people who join foreign terrorist group,” he told Sky News UK.”Sri Lanka has a very narrow definition of aiding terrorism. Therefore, we find that our existing laws are insufficient to deal with the extraordinary situation we are faced with. In our country to go abroad and return or to take part in a foreign armed uprising is not an offence .

This explanation is both false and silly, said Kishali Pinto Jayawardene, who is herself a lawyer.’  I do not propose to enumerate the laws that could be used for this purpose , but amendments to existing laws could have been brought in, if the Government wanted to, she said.’ “The existing laws are good enough to act against those with terror links,” said Mahinda Rajapaksa. The laws that cover involvement with foreign terrorists: are the Penal Code (Section 2), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Section 11) and the April 2019 Emergency regulations 2120/5 (Sections 26 and 27) said Lasanda Kurukulasuriya.

Yahapalana also    turned a blind eye to the   insurgent activity that was taking place under their noses. There was evidence that Zahran was an ISIS sympathizer and had given sermons against the government and non-Muslims. This information was readily available on social platforms. The Intelligence branch should have immediately infiltrated the organization, also tapped the phones of the leaders of NTJ, said an analyst. Yahapalana did nothing of the sort.

Instead, Yahapalana blocked the intelligence and military from taking action, though these agencies had all the information needed.   Intelligence said, when questioned after the bomb blast, that they had gathered information on 160 National Thowheed Jamath members who had been trained by terrorists. But it had not been possible to arrest them as the higher authorities would not give them the necessary permission.  Army Commander Senanayake also said that the military had very good intelligence but could not act as it lacked the authority to do so.

Yahapalana did nothing to stop the Easter Sunday bomb blasts from taking place, though the opportunity to do so presented itself on a plate. Several Buddha statues in Mawanella were defaced in December 2018. Investigations   led to a raid on a 75-acre coconut plantation in Wanatavilluwa, Puttalam in January. Explosives and detonators were found there. Valuable information on NTJ was obtained from those arrested. If this had been followed up, the Easter Sunday carnage could have been avoided, said DEW Gunasekera.

Instead  the investigators were not allowed by higher authorities to make arrests  during  the Wanathavilluwa  investigation, though the Defence Ministry and the police had been informed that these were terrorists reported the media. Law enforcement authorities did not pursue the matter even after the detection of a safe house at Wanathavilluwa operated by the NTJ in January this year, critics complained.

Two key suspects were captured in the raid at Lacktowatta in Wanathawilluwa. But due to the intervention of a powerful politician, they had been released and one of them had been involved in Sunday’s attacks, the media reported. The Vanathavillu raid pointed directly at spice trader Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, and his three sons. But the family escaped scrutiny and succeeded in carrying out the bomb plot.

Security was reduced to nothing, by Yahapalana. Security Council had not met for 6 months prior to the bomb blast. During the past four years there was a significant relaxation in overall security measures to the point that they did not seem to exist at all, said Malinda Seneviratne.  Access to government ministries and to hotels was possible without security checks. Road blocks by the security forces became a thing of the past. The freedom of movement and access to buildings became taken for granted. Yahapalana turned Sri Lanka into the softest of targets.

Yahapalana had appointed persons who did not know the subject of defense to key positions in the defense sector, including the two posts of Secretary, Defence and Chief of Intelligence. Under President Sirisena, there have been four Secretaries of Defence, B.M.U.D. Basnayake, Karunasena Hettiarachchi, Kapila Waidyaratne and Hemasiri Fernando. None of them had any experience in defense and security. Basnayake was a SLAS officer, Hettiarachchi was an engineer, Waidyaratne was formerly senior Additional Solicitor General and Fernando has been the Chairman of various institutions such as Telecom, ITN and    Peoples Bank.

Fernando was not the only Secretary who bungled the insurgency issue. Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi had also been evasive on the question of Muslim insurgency. When asked whether Sri Lankan Muslims had gone to Syria to join the ISIS.  He said ‘we    shouldn’t to discuss the matter’. Asked about a threat from Islamic radicals, he said, Let the government and the Security look after the matter. I think the media should keep away from these things.” (News in Asia 31.7.16)

Persons without any experience of intelligence work were appointed to the post of Chief of National Intelligence. The present Chief, Sisira Mendis has little or no knowledge in intelligence gathering, said Merril Guneratne, former senior DIG. Mendis was a former Deputy inspector General of Police . His term was extended annually. The State Intelligence Agency is the main intelligence agency of the country and should be headed by a professional.  

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna said that the Inspector General of Police, Pujitha Jayasundara, had on 18 April, authorized the transfer of 12 officials attached to the State Intelligence Service, just days prior to the Easter Sunday attacks. These 12 Intelligence officers were those who tipped off the authorities regarding the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Directorate of Military Intelligence was a highly professional entity. It had systematically built a treasure trove” of intelligence information. The DMI was a major contributor to the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009. Yahapalana reduced its position.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said the bomb attacks could have been prevented if Yahapalana had not dismantled the intelligence network and extensive surveillance capabilities that he built up during the war and later on. Gotabhaya said that he had set up a military intelligence cell in 2011 of 5,000 people, some of them with Arabic language skills and that was tracking the extremist ideology in eastern Sri Lanka. This cell was disbanded by Yahapalana government.

Gotabhaya has set up two intelligence units to monitor security, at Giritale and Kurunegala army camps. “The 7th military intelligence unit, set up in Giritale army camp did a lot to destroy terrorism in the east. The unit was   sealed by the CID, in 2016, despite resistance from the army. Extremist groups benefited by the dismantling of this unit, said National Freedom Front .

Col. Shammi Kumararatna, head of that Giritale unit and Col.Prabodha Siriwardana, two of the best intelligence officers in the army, were arrested in August 2015. They were then sent to secondary level jobs. Kumararatna is at the Ranawiru Sewa Authority, while Siriwardana works at a welfare shop. .  Intelligence officer Erantha Pieris was also in a welfare unit. Officer Rajapaksa was in the Women’s unit. This is the fate of a number of others as well, said analysts.

Yahapalana tried to strangle the Intelligence service. 244 intelligence officers were finger printed by the CID.  124 intelligence officers were arrested.  These arrests were made on flimsy evidence. 44 of them are still in prison said Wijedasa Rajapaksa. (Derana 6.55 news 23.4.2019.) Some intelligence officers left the country and some, such as Suresh Sallay, got appointments overseas. No other country in the world has persecuted and weakened their own armed forces and intelligence services in this manner said Mahinda Rajapaksa.  

Yahapalana was slow to act after the event. MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said it took him 48 hours to get an appointment to meet the Prime Minister after the bomb blasts. I am the most senior military official in the country and the most experienced in defense matters, but no one sought my advice in this situation.”

At the time of writing Yahapalana was still holding back on investigations. The military was awaiting permission from the government to question suspects. At the moment the army hands over suspects it takes into custody to the police. “We have sought powers to question the suspect because we think it’s better to record statements immediately after arrests. We hope the government will grant us permission, Army Commander said on 6.5.19.

Yahapalana government had offered Cardinal Malcolm Joseph a bullet proof vehicle. The Cardinal had firmly rejected the offer. He was displeased with Yahapalana.  Instead he strongly criticized Yahapalana for inaction.

A joint media briefing of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and Dr. Ittapana Dhammalankara Maha Nayake, Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura was held at Bishop’s House in Colombo on 29.4.19. The Cardinal said the clergy and the people are not happy about the manner in which the government is conducting investigations into the Easter Sunday bombings. I see neither direction nor coordination in the efforts that have been taken. Security forces tend to go to places on tip-offs but much more needs to be done.

“The entire Negombo area needs to be searched to prevent further disasters. When the authorities question some people and release them, they can flee the country. At least, their passports should be impounded. We will take to streets if these issues are not addressed, he concluded.

Dr. Ittapana Dhammalankara said the people had so far not taken the law into their own hands, but warned the government not to test the patience of the people.If another incident occurs, then the country will be plunged into chaos. Therefore, I urge the government to not allow the situation to get out of hand.

On the 1st of May, 2019, at another media conference, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith again expressed dissatisfaction at the rate the investigations and search operations are proceeding, reported the media.

He said the Army has still not been given the required powers to search arrest and interrogate the suspects. Although the government claims that the military has been given the power to act, they have only been given the authority to carry out search operations but they don’t have the authority to interrogate the suspects. Then what’s the point in engaging the army? They must be given the power to search arrest and interrogate and extract information.

 He wanted the army to carry out an extensive search operation in Negombo, especially the Periyamulla area. However, during the search operations in the Periyamulla area, the houses that had been closed had not been inspected. They have just gone to selected areas only. That won’t do. They must search every house, especially the ones that are closed up.

Shamindra Ferdinando thought security measures when he attended President Sirisena’s meeting with the journalists were insufficient. The security measures were wholly inadequate, he said.  (Continued)

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