The Army Commander Lt. General Mahesh Seneviratne says the National Security Council in the weeks before the terror attacks spent time discussing underworld don Makandure Madush without dealing with vital intelligence on terrorism.
Giving evidence for the second time before the Parliamentary Special Committee probing the Easter Sunday attacks, the General also said the Army had gathered, processed and passed on information about the growth of extremist groups to the Defense Ministry and the police but no arrests had been made.
Gen. Senanayake said “the arresting of those suspects should have been done by the police. We directed our findings to them. Since we had known of the network and shared such information with others, that arrests could be made within hours after the attacks.”
Yesterday’s committee comprised Dr Nalinda Jayatissa, Prof Ashu Marasinghe, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, M A Sumanthiran and Dr Jayampathi Wickremaratne.
“We cannot say (Islamic terror) is over” – Lt Gen Mahesh
Here are some of the exchanges between MPs and Lt Gen Senanayake:
Field Marshal Fonseka: You said that it is not a hundred per cent over. It is true and we have to accept it. Since the day that you said so and till now there have been several arrests. So it is not over. Some politicians have interpreted in various ways and saw that the problem is over. It is not so.
Field Marshal Fonseka: What is your opinion? When can your intelligence services warn us and save us from attacks similar to this?
Lt. Gen Senanayake: We cannot assure that it is over. There is some progress and intelligence revamping. We are not in a position to say that we could see this problem will be over within six months or six years.
Field Marshal Fonseka: You said that the CNI rank should be more effective and efficient. The CNI too told this commission that he had no power but (he was) only a post box relaying information. The CNI said that he had no powers to act. Is it the same now?
Lt Gen Senanayake: That rank should be given more powers to obtain intelligence from all sources and then process them. Thereafter the person holding the rank should be given powers to act as an analyst of the government irrespective of his political opinion and should be empowered to take action on his findings.
Field Marshal Fonseka: When testifying the last time, you said that you knew of the network of terror before they staged the suicide attack. Is it true? What did you know? What action did you take?
Lt Gen Senanayake: We had information pertaining to the spread of the extremist Islamic network. When we sensed the danger we deployed more intelligence operatives and collected more information. We processed and verified them. Thereafter we reported them to the Ministry of Defense. We handed over the information to the CNI, Director SIS and IGP Police. We recommended some arrests since we did not have powers to arrest under the normal law. Now under the emergency laws, we can. But then the arresting of those suspects should have been done by the police. We directed our findings to them. Since we had known of the network and shared such information with others, arrests could be made within hours after the attacks. It was thanks to the information we furnished the arrests were made. We know that there still some extremists are operating.
Dr Jayatissa: Since when you have been reporting about Islamic terror activities to the higher authorities?
Lt Gen Senanayake: Since 2017
Dr Jayatissa: Have you shared that information with others at the National Security Council. Have you discussed them at the NSC?
LT Gen Senanayake: We shared them. We discussed them. But I cannot say what they did with that information. We do not know how they processed them or why did not they arrest the persons we recommended. Most of the times we not only reported certain facts but also recommended arrests of certain terror suspects, but we have no information about the follow-up actions by them.
Dr Jayatissa: What is the relationship between the Army and Director State Intelligence Service?
Lt Gen Senanayake: We call each other. We may telephone or Whatsapp. But we are in contact. The contact between the Army and Director SIS is very regular.
“There is mistrust between the Army and the TID”
Dr Jayatissa: Former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando giving evidence here stated that that the Army commander, that is you, had twice told him to act on information with regard to Islamic terror groups and highlight the danger to other defense authorities. You had told him that your forwarding of that information had not been received well. According to your own words you and some others had been isolated there and they overlooked information you furnished. According to that testimony, the SIS did not entertain the information provided by the Army They did not trust your intelligence warnings. There had been mistrust. Is it true?
Lt. Gen Senanayake: Now only I know of that he had given that statement in his testimony. That was not about the SIS. The problem was with the Terrorist Investigation Division. The mistrust I mentioned to him was not with the SIS but with the TID.
Dr Jayatissa: Did not you receive it from the SIS?
Lt Gen Senanayake: I am sad because we were not been informed of that intelligence warning. There was no sharing of that intelligence. If that was shared with us, we could have done something to contain that situation. We still do not know as to why that information was not shared with us.
Dr Jayatissa: Did not you receive any warning or information of the April 21 attack on that morning or on the previous evening?
Lt Gen Senanayake: If there was such information, that should have been passed to us. That was not given to us. That did not happen. That was wrong.
Dr Wickremeratne: You mentioned of the TID’s lack of cooperation could you elaborate.
Lt Gen Senanayake: They did not cooperate well with us. Even after the war there had been many operations to recover explosives and to make some arrests. The TID did not cooperate well with us during those operations.
Dr Wickremeratne: You mentioned that it was easy for you and police and other defense authorities to act fast now because the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Law and Order operate as a single ministry. How is it easy?
Lt Gen Senanayake: So that we could get permission and orders from a single entity and report back to that single entity. It is easy.
Prof Marasinghe: The former Defense Secretary said that everything but issues pertaining to national security was discussed at the NSC. He said that during the months before the attacks, the main topic was Makandure Madush. Was it true?
LT Gen Senanayake: That is true.
Prof Marasinghe: So that information you had been feeding to the NSC of the extremist elements were not discussed, were they?
LT Gen Senanayake: That was the problem.
Prof Marasinghe: Haven’t the Defense Secretary instructed you to make arrests on the basis of reports?
Lt Gen Senanayake: That is not needed. It is the duty of the military and police to take actions when it is reported. We as leaders of forces should take actions to make that decision. We do not have to wait until it is spelt out to us. Within the framework of the law we are operating, we are entitled to take action on the basis of the information we receive at the NSC.
Field Marshal Fonseka: You cannot take some actions without the approval of the political leadership. For example, when Mavil Aru sluice gate was closed and it was informed to the NSC, we could not act our own, without the political leadership taking the lead and giving us permission. It is the political leadership which should make that call. Isn’t it?
Lt. Gen Senanayake: I did not compare that with this incident. If that information of the Easter Sunday attack was shared with us, we had the powers to act. When there are going to be bomb explosions at Shangri-La premises situated next to the Army Headquarters we can act. We do not wait for instructions on such instances for we are empowered to take actions.