Parliamentary Select Committee probe: Some questions
Posted on June 5th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Thursday 6th June, 2019

Former Director of the Terrorism Investigations Division (TID) DIG Nalaka de Silva would have the public believe that the Easter Sunday carnage could have been prevented if he had not been arrested. On Tuesday, he told the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday bombings and allied issues that the TID had, on his watch, kept the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) and its leader Mohamed Zaharan under surveillance and conveyed information about them to IGP Pujith Jayasundera, on a regular basis. The TID’s plans had gone awry owing to his arrest, he is reported to have said.

De Silva’s statement makes one wonder whether the entire TID collapsed following his arrest over an alleged plot to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. But is it possible that an institution fails to carry out its duties due to the arrest of only a single officer? Was de Silva without a deputy to run the TID after his arrest? Why didn’t the IGP, under whose purview the TID comes, detail someone else to take over de Silva’s investigations into the NTJ activities?

De Silva and his friends in the government are apparently trying to lay the blame for the failure on the part of the police to prevent the Easter bombings, at the feet of those who had him arrested. In so doing, they have unwittingly exposed the IGP’s failure to ensure the continuation of the TID probe into the NTJ’s illegal operations despite de Silva’s arrest.

The police are functioning under an acting IGP and carrying out all investigations which were initiated before IGP Jayasundera was sent on compulsory leave. Why couldn’t the TID do so following the arrest of its head?

If de Silva had kept IGP Jayasundera informed of the TID investigations which yielded incriminating evidence against the NTJ, Zaharan should have been arrested promptly. Why did the police wait till he vanished from their radar screen? Were they under political pressure to steer clear of the NTJ and Zaharan? In this country, people get arrested even for loitering with intent. The police also swooped on two drunkards who were urinating in a public place, in Kalutara, sometime ago.

Both Jayasundera and de Silva must be made to explain why the police did not arrest Zaharan and question him despite the availability of credible information that the latter posed a threat to national security. If the NTJ leader had been taken into custody prior to de Silva’s arrest last October, perhaps, the Easter attacks could have been prevented.

It may be recalled that in 2017, Zaharan and his associates unleashed violence against their rivals in the East. They mercilessly attacked a large number of people and burnt many houses. Some of his followers responsible for the incidents were arrested and remanded. Zaharan ran away. The police knew he was a wanted man. Why didn’t the TID, which, de Silva says, had been following him, did not take him into custody for those crimes?

The NTJ succeeded in carrying out the Easter attacks not because of de Silva’s arrest; they struck with ease because the Defence Ministry and the government leaders had not taken an intelligence warning of the impending attacks seriously. In fact, the then Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando said so in answer to a question from the foreign media, in the aftermath of the terror strikes. IGP Jayasundera was sent on compulsory leave on the grounds that he had not acted on the intelligence warning at issue, which the police had received in early April. Now, de Silva says the IGP had been kept informed of the danger the NTJ posed to national security as early as last year. Are we to conclude that the IGP’s alleged lapses anent the Easter bombings are far more serious than thought?

These are only some of the questions that one asks oneself, having read what de Silva told the PSC. It is hoped that they will not go unanswered.

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