SIS head’s handling of Indian warning mysterious, basic procedures not followed Presidential probe into Easter attacks:
Posted on January 19th, 2020

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

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One-time defence advisor retired Senior DIG Merril Gunaratne has questioned the conduct of ousted head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena over the latter’s responsibility as regards the intelligence failure leading to the Easter Sunday attacks.

Testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Friday, January 17, at the BMICH, Gunaratne, who had served the state intelligence apparatus for about 15 years, pointed out how negligence on the part of SIS Chief had paved the way for near simultaneous Easter Sunday suicide attacks.

The Commission appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena in Sept 2019 consisted of Court of Appeal Justice Janak de Silva (Chairman), CA Judge Nissanka Bandula Karunarathna, CA Judge (retd) Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, High Court Judge (retd) Atapattu Liyanage Bandula Kumara Atapattu, and W. M. M. Adikari, retired Ministry Secretary.

Gunaratne described the way the then SIS Chief had handled the intelligence warning received from India as mysterious.

Responding to queries posed by the Commission, Gunaratne explained how the Indian warning received on April 04, 2019 had been handled. The SIS Chief could have immediately dispatched an operative to New Delhi to make further inquiries/seek clarifications while taking tangible measures to have the original warning verified, Gunaratne said. Instead, the SIS Chief had mysteriously suppressed the issue without taking it up at the National Security Council, Gunaratne said.

Gunaratne, who retired from service in 2000 after having served the police for three and a half decades explained how the SIS Chief could have helped aver the Easter Sunday carnage.

At the time of the attacks, President Maithripala Sirisena who held the defence portfolio was away in Singapore.

Referring to previous disclosures before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Easter Sunday attacks, Gunaratne frowned on the SIS Chief’s note to the then IGP Pujith Jayasundera, requesting that the DIG, TID (Terrorist Investigation Division) be asked not to inquire into several incidents later proved to be connected with the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ).

Nearly 270 persons perished and about 400 were wounded in seven separate attacks on six locations with Shangri La hotel hit by two suicide blasts.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa replaced Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena with Brigadier Suresh Sallay recently. The SIS has never been under the Army. Earlier Sallay was removed from the post of Military Intelligence Chief, a matter also figured in a leaked telephone conversation between UNP MP Ranjan Ramananayake and recently ousted Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) SSP Shani Abeysekera.

Gunaratne explained the person who functioned as the Chief of SIS wielded the real power in spite of the existence of Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) Office. Retired DIG Sisira Mendis held the post of CNI. Mendis was brought in place of retired Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana, one of the most experienced intelligence officers.

Gunaratne said that he couldn’t explain why Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena behaved the way he did.

According to Gunaratne had there been a proper evaluation of the Indian intelligence warning followed by immediate meeting of all relevant parties and the Ministry of Defence tackling the issue in consultation with the then President, the NTJ operation could have been averted. None of those responsible officers, including Hemasiri Fernando, Secretary Ministry of Defence and IGP Jayasundera as well as those DIGs who received the warning did anything, Gunaratne said.

However, SIS head was named as the main culprit by the former Senior DIG.

Gunaratne asserted that the Indian warning couldn’t be considered a proper intelligence document as the recipient didn’t conduct a proper assessment as required.

Before Gunaratne appeared before the Commission, a copy of his controversial memoirs with the focus on severe criticism of UNP leader and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe during 2002-2004 premiership in respect of security related matters was made available to the Commission.

Gunaratne told the Commission the SIS hadn’t followed proper procedures in respect of warning received from India thereby created an environment conducive for the NTJ operation. The former veteran police officer referred to several senior colleagues who had expertly handled intelligence during JRJ presidency. Retired Senior DIG also pointed out how those responsible for national security could benefit from the work of regular political and defence columnists.

The Commission dealt only with the original Indian warning though there were altogether three separate warnings.

Gunaratne also explained that the police on their own couldn’t have handled the Indian warning. The Defence Ministry intervention was required to prevent panic among the public, he added.

The Presidential Commission inquiring into Easter Sunday attacks is yet to record a statement from Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, who was the head the SIS at the time of the Easter attacks.

Authoritative sources confirmed that Jayawardena’s statement was yet to be recorded though so far approximately 400 furnished statements to the police.

So far, nearly 50 persons have appeared before the Commission.

The Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri questioned Jayawardena at an undisclosed location. The media was not given access to Jayawardena’s statement.

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