ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Public Security Minister on Thursday (11) vehemently denied allegations levelled by opposition MPs over the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, though the MPs maintained that the minister had failed to answer the questions asked.
Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera’s strong denial came two days after main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya legislators Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara asked a series of questions which they claimed had not been satisfactorily answered by the minister.
Fernando on Tuesday (09) told parliament that police had nabbed two lorries on April 4, 2019 – just weeks before the attack – at the Southern Expressway’s Galanigama interchange but subsequently released them because a top police officer had ordered their release.
“What was in those lorries? Who was the police big shot that ordered their release? Who owned those two vehicles? We urge Minister Weerasekera to at least reveal this,” Fernando told parliament.
“This police high up was at the Malu Malu hotel in Pasikuda when the April 21 attack took place. Who paid his bill? On whose voucher did he go there?” he asked.
“I urge [the minister] to reveal this. These are some things that never came to light in the Easter Sunday Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probe.”
Fernando further said the wife of Zahran Hashim, the ring leader of the Islamist extremists who carried out the attack, had given a statement that there were days her husband had met Sri Lankan military intelligence officials at his house.
SJB MP Nanayakkara, meanwhile, asked about Puslathini Sara, the wife of another terrorist – the one who had attacked St Sebastian’s church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo.
“We asked where Sara was, and they tried to prove she was dead. Let us and the people know if Sara is being held in a military detention camp or if she died or if she was sent to India,” Nanayakkara told parliament.
“Also reveal the contents of those undisclosed volumes of the [PCoI] report. Why are you afraid to do so?” he said referring to 22 volumes of the report which have yet to be released to the public. Only one report has been released to the public so far.
Nanayakkara claimed the top police officer alleged to have released the two lorries as mentioned by Fernando has now been given a security posting at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). The MP also claimed the lorries the police officer had released had transported “explosives”.
Three groups of local Islamic extremists led by Zahran Hashim were identified as the terrorists behind the Easter Sunday suicide attack that targeted three churches across the country and four high-end tourist hotels in the commercial capital Colombo. The attack killed at least 269 people and injured over 500.
Finding the invisible mastermind behind the attack and their purported true motives were some of the key pledges of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) in the run-up to the 2019 presidential poll. Two years after the election, Catholic church leaders have raised questions about the government’s sincerity in its investigations into the matter.
The head of Sri Lanka’s Catholic church Malcom Cardinal Ranjith recently told a forum that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had told him that he would become unpopular if he were to implement all the recommendations made in the PCoI report.
“Don’t Play with National Security”
Minister Weerasekera responding to the allegations on Thursday told parliament that the claims by both opposition MPs were misleading and false.
“They are making these claims and hiding behind parliamentary privilege,” he told the House.
Weerasekara said Zahran’s wife Sadia had been questioned on five occasions – twice before the attack and three times after the attack.
“Nowhere had she mentioned that any intelligence personnel met Zahran at their home,’ he said, adding that the police officer failed to investigate properly before the attack as Sara, the wife of another suicide bomber, had been at Zahran’s house when Sadia was questioned.
He also said the two lorries in question had been transporting ornamental fish imported from China to a company called Rajagiriya Tropical Fish International via a China Southern Airline flight when it was stopped at the Galigamuwa interchange.
Weerasekera also said no police officer was at the Malu Malu hotel and nobody has been deployed to Sri Lanka Cricket as claimed by the opposition members.
“Don’t play with national security. Whenever you come to power, you weaken the intelligence and make them ineffective and demotivate them,” he said.
“If you continue this, you will have to take responsibility for it,” he added.
Oposition allegations over the Easter attack have become cause of concern for the government, even as a visibly agitated Cardinal Ranjith continues to bemoan the government’s delay in finding what he says is the grand conspiracy behind the bombings.
Some security experts have opined that the attack was staged with the backing of some international powers. However, this has not been proven yet and remains to be a conspiracy theory so far.
The opposition MPs, however, raised their doubts after Weerasekera spoke in parliament on Thursday.
“He did not answer the questions we asked. We asked about the owners of the lorries and the name of the police officer who had released the lorries,” Fernando told parliament.
He also tabled an official document to prove the top police official’s appointment to the SLC with a monthly salary. (Colombo/Nov11/2021)