EASTER SUNDAY BOMB BLAST IN SRI LANKA Part 6
Posted on May 17th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

This essay provides additional information on matters which have been discussed in the earlier essays. We start with the investigations into the Easter Sunday bombings

ITEM 1

 ‘Praying Mantis’ tells us what the government should have done immediately after the bomb blasts. The government should have immediately imposed an indefinite island-wide curfew, declared a state of emergency, brought the tri-forces and the police out of their barracks and encouraged them to use all available intelligence information . The sympathizers, henchmen, supportive politicians and all those connected even remotely with the bomb blasts should have been promptly and rapidly rounded up. What we needed was strong, vibrant and crucial leadership. What we got was the exact opposite; weak, half dead and cannot-care-less types.

Most of the armed forces are still in the barracks, only less than half of the available personnel are being used. Yet for all that, what they have achieved is mind-boggling and totally overwhelming. They have risen to the occasion like never before. They have had access to a considerable amount of intelligence information,  and they have rounded up many  criminals from right round the country. They got the lot from even unheard of locations in the wild,  said Praying Mantis’.

ITEM 2

Merril Guneratne has  looked at the  intelligence  sector. The State Intelligence Service (SIS) had a period of at least  two years to become aware of the clandestine activities of the terror groups. There was the  desecration of Buddhist temples in Kegalle and the murder of policemen in Vavunativu. These two operations should have acted as alarm signals  pointing to  an emerging terror movement.

Gunaratne places  the blame firstly on  the Head of the SIS. The SIS should have prepared and sent a report  containing the intelligence to the government and Secretary of Defense. Secretary of Defence  should thereafter have convened a security conference, to  assess the threat, consider security safeguards, and seek the approval of the President for their enforcement. After that there should have been a conference of the Chief of Defense Staff,( CDS), service commanders and the IGP, along with Chief of National Intelligence and Director of SIS, to discuss the threat.

His inability to do so has been a grave omission. This may have been due to his ignorance and inexperience in matters connected with national security. The Chief of national Intelligence, like Secretary of Defence,  did not know anything  about intelligence and national security, though  he  was at the apex of the intelligence gathering agency, a highly specialized and skilled field. Gunaratne pointed out that   Secretary  of Defence ,Chief of National intelligence and director of SIS  could meet President and the Minister of Defence    at any time,  to discuss urgent  matters regarding national security.

I think there is considerable merit in the advocacy of Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha for an investigation for criminal neglect, said Gunaratne  There would have been many telephone calls  between Secretary of Defence, IGP, Chief of national Intelligence and Director of SIS concerning  the intelligence received from India. Did Secretary of Defence and IGP consult Director, SIS and CNA as to the nature of the threat foreseen by Indian intelligence. Telephone conversations and off the record” discussions, should be included in such a probe.

ITEM 3

The speed with which the Police, STF and Armed services swung into action following the explosions, despite their initial failing, is commendable, said Gamini Gunawardene. They seemed to know where to strike no sooner than the green light was given. Within hours, the police visited the most vulnerable spot in Dematagoda, and the three police officers and also the pregnant wife and children of the prime suspect blew themselves into smithereens. Security Forces with STF then raided the right places in Sammanthurai, Kalmunai and Katthankudy with devastating results.

The Army’s Intelligence arm had collected the information, using systems that were upgraded during the near three decade long separatist war, reported the media. The  intelligence work started when five Muslim youth joined the ISIS  in July 2015 together with their immediate families, numbering 34.  This came to light after a person identified as Nilam was killed in combat in Syria. The closely knit group’s 34 members had been moving between Iraq and Syria and later operating in Syria. It transpired that an IS ‘military’ instructor came to Sri Lanka and circulated on the internet various messages to Muslim youth, indoctrinating them in ISIS ideology.

The Army began monitoring one of these  groups. The comments posted showed they endorsed IS ideology and had been  influenced by the propaganda. Views expressed were extremist. It is this group that morphed into Jamiathul Millathul Ibrahim (JMI). It was headed by Umar Mohamed who is now in custody. He is spilling the beans. Towards the end of 2017, divisions erupted in JMI. The issue was over whether they should carry out attacks in Sri Lanka or not. Leader Mohamed had objected and said they should go and fight shoulder to shoulder with brethren” in Syria. This in-fighting led to a breakup of the JMI.

A small group broke away and did not attend JMI meetings. They took up the position that they would not interfere with other groups.  Their policy  was live and let live.” Later, they joined the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) which was led by Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zahran.

The NTJ came into being in 2016.  Before that they were known in 2012 as Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamaath (SLTJ) and earlier as All Ceylon Thowheed Jamaath (ACTJ). Zahran, who was wanted by the Police went missing In March  2017. From an unknown location he kept on posting highly inflammatory and extremist IS material on the Internet. His Facebook account too contained such posts and video footage. He exhorted the killing of infidels or non-Muslims.

A leadership crisis broke out in the NTJ. A section accused Zahran of being a sex maniac, of misappropriating money and being exceedingly aggressive.  Yet, he was backed by the majority. In his absence Thowfeek Mowlavi became acting leader. Some investigators believe Zahran went to South India through illegal means and was hiding there. However, they have no evidence to confirm this. Joining them was a third person – Mohamed Nowfer from Qatar. He has been posting IS materials directed at Sri Lankan Muslim youth when he was in Qatar. Later, in Sri Lanka, Zahran and Nowfer together continued to upload IS video material on the internet. Nawfer has now been arrested  along with another key member Milshan from Saudi Arabia.

Other than the hard-core cadres taught in Iraq and Syria, the training for local recruits had been minimal and lasted only three or four days. Zahran who conducted them in areas such as Aruppola (Mawanella), Nuwara Eliya, Hambantota and Malwana focused on mental inculcation. His brother Rilwan had been well trained in bomb manufacture and died in the blasts at the safe house in Sainthamaruthu. Zaharan’s other brother, Zain was also an explosive expert. Contrary to Police claims there have been no training camps like the ones used by Tiger guerrillas.

When Zahran re-appeared, he cunningly ended the leadership crisis. He circulated among Thowfeek, Naufer and Milshan a video. It said that Thowfeek, evidently a non-Sri Lankan did not have a visa. Zahran would be the leader of the NTJ. More youth should be recruited and trained. Arguments  went back and forth. One side was in favor of training cadres and sending them to Syria. The other backed by Zahran insisted that they should go ahead with plans to take on targets in Sri Lanka. With enormous financial resources at their disposal, surveillance of targets began. Police later arrested a leading tea export firm’s employee who held Rs 89 million in a bank account for use by extremist Muslim ISIS groups.

One of the five members whom the Army identified in July 2015 as fighting with the IS was Mohamed Aroos. He has been in regular contact with Zahran by telephone and has been helping the latter. Aroos has since been taken into custody  by the US troops operating in Syria and is under interrogation.

The explosive the local bomb groups used has been confirmed as Triacetone Triperoxide or TATP, the type used by ISIS. A large stock of bomb making material and detonators, local as well as those suspected to be smuggled from India after purchase in the black market, were destroyed when a suicide bomber exploded himself in a hideout in Sainthamaruthu (Batticaloa District) when troops surrounded it.

Evidence has surfaced that Zahran had plans for a second wave of attacks. The wife of Haktun, the suicide bomber who attacked St Sebastian Church in Katuwapitiya has confirmed that large stocks of white cloth had been purchased from a shop in Giriulla. Were they for use as pilgrims at temples or during the Vesak celebrations? There was also evidence pointing to the likelihood of a long-term plan to use it as a disguise during the Esala Perahera in Kandy.

The terrorists who carried out the Easter Sunday bombings used a Swiss developed, highly encrypted mobile communication App named Threema”, The mobile phone App boasts ‘best in the class’ end-to-end encryption and allows a user to generate a random Threema ID, thereby giving anonymity to the user. The level of encryption used by the said App makes intercepting or decrypting such communications very difficult for Sri Lankan authorities with available technologies, concluded Sunday Times .  

ITEM  4

Azath Sally was interviewed by Chandraprema in 2019. He said, Zaharan was very powerful  in Kattankudy  and politicians were  scared to cross him. Kattankudy was a traditional Muslim village and the traditional Muslims were a very peaceful people. Every week there would be functions at home, there would be recitals and the entire community would share a meal. When these extremists came in, they said everything we were doing was wrong – those gatherings, what we were reciting, and even the shared meal was wrong. They had money that was coming from abroad and that gave them power, said Azath.

 The Towheed Jamath movement came into this country in the early 1980s and they splintered into several factions, said Azath. Every time money came in, distribution became a problem and they broke up into splinter groups. So you find several factions, called the SLTJ. CTJ. NTJ and so on. Altogether there are  about ten to twelve factions. The movement is limited to a small number of people. Traditional Muslims have gone to the police against Towheed Jamath on several occasions.  

Since 1994,  I have been telling the authorities about the Zaharan group and its activities, continued Azath. I  prevented their leader P. Jainulabdeen, head of Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath from coming here. I told the Defence Secretary that this person must not be allowed into the country. But he had already landed in Sri Lanka. This was in 1995 or 1996. The police deported him before he could speak at a meeting. After that he tried to come to Sri Lanka on three occasions. I blocked it on all three occasions. Now he says he wants to come to Sri Lanka for medical treatment. But we have told him that people were going from Sri Lanka to India for medical treatment and that he should not come here concluded Azath.

Wasn’t there an incident in Kattankudy where a mosque was demolished and the body of a Sufi leader thrown out onto the street asked Chandraprema. . That was done by Zaharan Hashim, replied Azath. There was another incident where 120 houses were burnt down by Zaharan. There is a large Sufi community in Kattankudy with a Sheik in charge. The Sheik was scared of the NTJ  and kept silent.  Sufis are  still the majority in Kattankudy But they are peaceful people and they are afraid even to go to the police because the extremists have money to throw around.

Why are the mainline Muslim leaders so scared of these groups. Why were they reluctant to even acknowledge that a problem exists asked Chandraprema. All Muslim candidates who contested the Batticaloa district signed agreements with Zaharan Hashim, replied Azath. Zaharan  imposed conditions on them saying that they could not go with the Sufis and that they had to do what he told them to do. So for election purposes, Hisbulla and even the Muslim Congress signed  up, fearing that they will lose elections otherwise. They are under the thumb of these Towheed groups. Hisbulla had been told that he can’t light crackers or play music at meetings. He violated those conditions and was defeated.

ITEM 5

UPFA MP Dr Sarath Amunugama told Parliament,  that the Easter Sunday attacks could not be taken lightly.  The whole country was gripped by fear. The schools are empty. The world regarded the Easter Sunday suicide bombings in Sri Lanka as the biggest attack, second only to the 9/11 attacks in the US.

During the previous government we had the world’s best security forces and intelligence services. Because former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and then Army Commander Sarath Fonseka worked together, they were able to defeat the world’s most ruthless terrorist group. But what has happened to the country since 2015, he asked.

Since 2015 the security establishment had been allowed to deteriorate. “In 2017 when certain Muslim factions took up arms and created trouble, the Muslim people brought up the issue and even revealed the names of these persons to the police. The government did nothing. This is not a weakness of the intelligence agencies. The government had ample information. The Muslims themselves complained,” he said, adding that the blame should first be accepted by those in charge of law and order.

“My earnest request is for this government to resign keeping. If you don’t take the blame, then the President should kick you out and appoint the people who have knowledge and form an all-party government.” Amunugama commended the earlier speech made by MP Sarath Fonseka and said it was a very comprehensive review of the situation. “This Cabinet is like a turkey waiting for an early Christmas,” he said.

ITEM  6

The last item in this essay is a set of quotations from the column Cassandra Cry”. Cassandra had  this to say about the Easter Sunday bombings :

Cass listened to Dr Rajitha Senaratna, Rauf Hakeem and Kabir Hashim speak to the media on Monday 22 at Temple Trees where, on behalf of the government they humbly apologized to all those who were affected by the bomb blasts and outlined compensation to be paid/given, said Cassandra

The apology  was tendered by the spokesman of the government, speaking more on behalf of the UNP. Dr Senaratna and others apologized humbly to the victims, their families, and to the Catholic Church and institutes the targeted sites belonged to. Among all the blame lying, I did not hear Ranil Wickremasinghe pointing a finger even once, or blame laying, trying to absolve himself and his party. He got down to business no sooner he heard about the first bomb. I heard his interview with the foreign press. He held his own and was a credit to the country..Blame laying was rampant. The Opposition Leader emerged loudest. Not only did he say the government had failed to protect the country; he went further by demanding the resignation of the entire Cabinet (UNP). It would have been complete destabilization and more room given anyone and everyone who wanted to kill, maim, rob. Instead of coming together in a time of dire need, this was his idea – to grab power, never mind what happened to dear suffering, highly damaged Sri Lanka, said Cassandra.

We closed our ears when the televised Parliamentary proceedings had Gunawardena and Weerawansa ranting. In contrast was Field Marshall Fonseka speaking calmly and thus more forcefully. He said a person like himself should be made use of. So true and correct.

Wimal Weerawansa rode the most favored of his horses of contention, ranting against foreign services arriving in Colombo to help in the investigations. He mentioned the USA’s FBI and the British Secret Service. How self-serving can you be to target the die-hard nationalist voter by making such pronouncements, to say they are infiltrating our land and will cause damage if not take over the country, asked Cassandra.

 They came because the recent bomb blasts that shattered the peace and consequent complacency of Sri Lanka is an internationalized matter now. The ISIS is said to be involved, so we need the best expertise from around the world to chase leads and crush the terrorists in Sri Lanka. The government, not being frog in the well like this politician – only for appearance and to cadge popularity though personally the US seemed to be his family’s frequented holiday resort – was willing in its dire need to accept offered foreign assistance.

The second reason why the government accepted foreign help in detection of members of the break-away Muslim group and diffusion of the situation was that foreigners were killed in the hotel blasts including British and American, so their secret services had every right to be here in Sri Lanka and be involved, concluded Cassandra.  (Continued)

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