Shocking lapses led to official inaction over Easter bombs
A lackadaisical attitude towards security in general and a disregard of vital intelligence led to no action being taken against the National Thowheed Jamaat militants who struck on Easter Sunday, a Parliamentary Committee probing the attacks heard today.
More than 250 people were killed in suicide bomb attacks on churches in Katuwapitiya, Kochchikade, and Batticaloa as well as three five-star hotels in Colombo.
The historic first ever live telecast of the committee proceedings was also abruptly stopped, reportedly on the orders of President Maithripala Sirisena, as the embarrassing information spilled out on Peo TV.
It was also revealed that the National Security Council had not met for nearly three months between February 19 until the day after the attacks on April 22.
National Intelligence Chief Sisira Mendis shockingly revealed that the information regarding a possible terror attack on Catholic churches, luxury hotels and the Indian High Commission of Sri Lanka was not given priority in the Intelligence Coordinating Meeting which was held on February 9.
Mendis said that he had received information about this plan from SIS Chief Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Nilantha Jayawardena on April 8.
“I opened the letter at about 11 a.m that day. I did not know from where the SIS got that information. DIG Jayawardena’s letter did not mention it. After reading that, I sought an opportunity to speak with the Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando,” he said.
Mendis said he had verbally conveyed the information to Fernando that afternoon. “It seemed to me that he was not aware of information as such prior to my message,” Mendis said.
“Fernando told me that the matter could be discussed on 09 April during the weekly ICM. However, during the meeting, the information on a terror attack was not given priority. I was keeping the letter I received from the SIS Chief on my table. I was seated between the IGP and the SIS Chief. When the meeting was going to end I told them that we should discuss the terror attack plan,” he added.
Giving further testimony the Intelligence Chief said on the same day he sent a letter regarding the terror attack plan to the IGP. “I mentioned on the top of the letter that the information contained in it should be given top priority. But the IGP did not respond to that. Until 21 April, no one talked with me regarding the importance of that information,” he added.
Islamic State threat discussed but no action taken
Mendis also presented to the probe committee documents that gave information about IS activities in Sri Lanka and had recommended that new laws be drafted so that action could have been taken against the organisation.
“I sent a letter to IGP Jayasundara on 27 November 2017 requesting him to hold discussions with the Attorney General regarding a comprehensive legal mechanism to tackle the IS threat to Sri Lanka. But I did not get a response from his side for the letter. On 01 February 2018, I again sent a letter to him making the same concerns. But again I did not receive any response from his end,” Mendis added.
“We saw a threat from IS and we discussed about it. The SIS Director is the one who is given priority during the NSC meetings. He is also given the priority in the ICM as well. He reports directly to the Secretary of the Defence Ministry. The Name of Zahran Hashim was first raised in the NSC in March 2017 following a clash between two Muslim groups in Kattankudy. There were discussions that Hashim held extremist ideology. The Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) had done an investigation on him and issued warrants against him,” he said.
“Before February 19, the NSC met on 14 January 2019. The meeting days in 2018 are 05 January, 19 February, 05 March, 02 May, 10 July, 23 October, 13 November, and 03 December. “
“During some of these meetings, the SIS Chief Jayawardena spoke about Zahran Hashim and his allies spreading hate speech and extremism. The IGP did not attend the NSC meetings after November 2018. Normally, it is the Defence Secretary’s office which sends messages to the participants of the NSC regarding the date and time of meetings. I remember that since in November 2018, those messages did not say that we were summoned for the NSC meetings. Instead, the messages stated that they are special meetings.”
“When a large amount of explosives found in Wanathawilluwa in January 2019, the NSC discussed it. At that moment the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was carrying out investigations regarding that. It was discussed that the CID should continue its investigations further.”
Intelligence services not weakened – Kottegoda
Giving evidence before the Committee, Defense Secretary Gen (Rtd) Shantha Kottegoda revealed that information with regard to National Thowheed Jamaat had been available to the intelligence services since 2014.
“If action had been taken to ban these organisations at that time considerable damage could have been averted,” he said
Kottegoda was grilled by the Members of Parliament on the committee whether the Intelligence services were weakened due to arrests of some members of the units.
He replied that the State Intelligence Service could not be weakened by the absence of a few members.
Today’s meeting of the PSC was chaired by Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne (PC) since its Chairman deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri was overseas. Rajitha Senaratne and M.A Sumanthiran were also overseas.
Nalinda Jayatissa, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Ravi Karunanayake, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Rauff Hakeem participated in the meeting.
This is the first time in Sri Lankan Parliament History in which the media was allowed to cover a PSC meeting.
The next PSC meeting will be held on 04 June from 3 p.m onwards.