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Monday June 24th, 2024

Threat subsides, Sri Lanka Easter bombers home-grown: investigators

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Easter bombers were from a home grown outfit, but with foreign expertise in the manufacture of “Mother of Satan” bombs, the trade mark of the Islamic State.

Both police and military investigators believe they have accounted for almost all the followers of radicalised Islamic cleric Zahran Hashim’s who led the April 21 attack.

“The top level of Zahran’s out-fit is no more,” a senior investigator said. “The police and the military have taken care of the second level too. The threat of a repetition of April 21 bombings is extremely unlikely.”

The officer agreed that there still may be a few who have escaped the security net, but their ability to stage new attacks was almost nil. “The operational capability of remnants is almost non-existent.”

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said that nearly 90 people, including 10 women, were in custody in connection with the bombings thatkilled 258 people and wounded nearly 500. Army chief Mahesh Senanayake also expressed confidence that Zahran Hashim’s group could no longer pose a threat.

Here is what is known so far:

The bomb

The bombers used triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an unstable blend of chemicals favoured by the Islamic State group which calls it "Mother of Satan." TATP is a white crystal powder that Zahran’s outfit had made locally, but possibly with the help of foreign experts.

It is the TATP that ties Zahran’s National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) to the Islamic State. However, evidence so far suggests that the NTJ carried out the attack as a shout out to the IS and that there was no direct IS involvement in the attacks.

It is believed that Zahran or other members of his group had TATP manufacturing training either in Sri Lanka or abroad.

In January, police found about 100 kilos of high explosives following the discovery of 100 detonators from a location near Wilpattu national park. This find was made as the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probed the December 26, 2018 desecration of Buddha statues in Mawanella. At the time, the authorities had not pin-pointed the explosives as TATP.

The attackers

Hashim and six other bombers staged the attacks against the three churches and three luxury hotels. Another man and a woman also blew themselves up the same day in related incidents, bringing the number of suicide bombers to nine.

Fathima Ilham, who was pregnant, killed herself and her three children when police went to the family homes shortly after her husband Ilham Ibrahim was identified as one of the Shangri-La bombers.

The ninth bomber was identified as UK and Australia-educated aeronautical engineer Abdul Latheef Jameel.

CCTV footage showed him carrying a backpack of explosives to another Colombo hotel, but for an unknown reason did not detonate it. Instead he went to a motel outside Colombo and killed himself. A couple in the next room were also killed.

It is suspected that Latheef may have chickened-out and did not want to kill other people at the hotel restaurant having Sunday breakfast. Latheef had checked into the five-star hotel on April 19 and also attended a wedding there. He was known to the restaurant staff as an in-house guest.

There was a suggestion that his bomb may have malfunctioned, but it did work at the Tropical Inn at Dehiwala where he detonated it in a room with no other people around. The couple in the next room became collateral damage.

Latheef was the most educated and the most technically qualified out of the nine bombers. If he had chickened out at the deluxe hotel, there was no secondary detonating device for a handler to set it off. In places like Indonesia, the IS had detonated secondary triggering devices to murder would-be suicide bombers who had a last minute change of heart.

Police on Tuesday confirmed the identity of all the nine bombers following DNA tests. They reconfirmed that Zahran led the attack and there were two brothers, Ilham Ibrahim and Insaf Ibrahim, among the bombers. Their spice export business, Ishana Spice Exports, appeared to have been the main funder of Zahran.

Militant followers

Army chief, Lieutenant General Senanayake, said six Muslim men who had pledged to carry out suicide bombings were killed when their safe house near the eastern town of Kalmunai was raided on April 26.

Three men inside the house and three outside tried to fight off security forces. When they ran out of ammunition, they recorded a video message and blasted themselves.

Along with the six men, the widows of three April 21 bombers and their six children were killed.

"The network that carried out the April 21 attack has been accounted for," Senanayake said. "We are now going after the second level to make sure we sweep our extremist terrorists."

Foreign help

President Sirisena has said eight countries were directly helping with the investigations. The United States, Britain, Australia and India are among countries that have provided forensic and other technical support.

The army chief Senanayake said at least two suspects were arrested in Qatar and Saudi Arabia underscoring the international help to break the jihadi network in Sri Lanka. China has offered a fleet of vehicles to bolster mobility of the security forces.

The government has also acknowledged that the country’s security establishment failed to act on intelligence India provided on April 4 pinpointing who would carry out the attack when and where.

Internal investigation into security lapses is underway. (COLOMBO, May 22, 2019).

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Sri Lanka central bank appoints two Deputy Governors

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s central bank said Assistant Governors A A M Thassim and J P R Karunaratne were promoted to the post of Deputy Governor.

The full statement is reproduced below:

APPOINTMENT OF NEW DEPUTY GOVERNORS OF THE CENTRAL BANK OF SRI LANKA

In terms of the provisions in the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Act, No. 16 of 2023, Hon. Minister of Finance, as recommended by the Governing Board, has appointed Mr. A A M Thassim, Assistant Governor and Secretary to the Governing Board, and Mr. J P R Karunaratne, Assistant Governor, as Deputy Governors of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka with effect from 20.06.2024 and 24.06.2024, respectively.

Mr. A A M Thassim

Mr. A.A.M. Thassim has over 31 years of service at Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in different capacities in the areas of Supervision and Regulation of Banking Institutions, International Operations, Communication, Payments and Settlements, Employees Provident Fund, Finance, Risk Management, Deposit Insurance, Security Services and Information Technology.

He has served as the Director of Bank Supervision (DBS), Director of International Operation (DIO) and Director of Communications (DCM) and has contributed towards strengthening the legal framework, governance, implementation the Basel 3 international guidelines for capital and liquidity and adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) 9 to the banking sector, thereby strengthening the resilience of the Financial Sector.

Further, as the DIO, Mr. Thassim was responsible for the investments and management of foreign reserves of the country and exchange rate management. Mr. Thassim has also gained experience and knowledge in the field of payment systems and was involved in the implementation of the Cheque Imaging and Truncation System. In addition, he has also served on several high-level internal committees including in the areas of monetary policy, financial system stability and international reserves.

Prior to the appointment as the Deputy Governor, Mr. Thassim held the position of Assistant Governor and was in charge of several key departments including the Bank Supervision Department. He also served as the Secretary to the Governing Board, Monetary Policy Board, Audit Committee, Board Risk Oversight Committee, Ethics Committee and Financial Sector Crisis Management Committee.

At present, Mr. Thassim is a board member of the Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Corporation and the Vice Chairman of the Institute of Bankers of Sri Lanka (IBSL). Further, he has also served as a board member of the Credit Information Bureau of Sri Lanka and LankaClear (Pvt) Ltd.,

Mr. Thassim is an Associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (ACMA) United Kingdom and possesses a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), University of Sri Jayewardenepura (USJ). He has also completed a programme on Gold Reserves Management from Hass School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, USA.

He is also an Alumni of Harvard University, USA having successfully completed the executive programme on Leaders in Development conducted by the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Mr. J P R Karunaratne

Mr. J P R Karunaratne has over 33 years of service at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in different capacities in the areas of supervision and regulation of Banks and Non-Bank financial institutions, Currency management, public debt, Secretariat, Finance, policy review and monitoring. He has served as the Director of Supervision of Non-Bank Financial Institutions (DSNBFI) and the Superintendent of Currency (SC) and has contributed towards strengthening the legal and regulatory framework in the Non-Bank Financial Institutions sector and has played a prominent role in the consolidation of the Non-Bank Financial Institutions sector. Prior to the appointment as a Deputy Governor, Mr. J P R Karunaratne held the position of Assistant Governor and was in-charge of the Department of Supervision of Non-Bank Financial Institutions, Finance Department and the Facilities Management Department.

As an Assistant Governor Mr. Karunaratne has previously overseen several other departments namely, Macroprudential Surveillance, Resolution and Enforcement, Foreign Exchange, Currency, Regional Development, Legal and Compliance, Risk Management, Center for Banking Studies, Security Services and Staff Services Management.

He has also served as the Secretary to the Monetary Board, Secretary to the Board Risk Oversight Committee, Monetary Board Advisory Audit Committee and the Ethics Committee. Further, He was on release to the Ministry of Defence, where he served as a Financial Advisor. He was also appointed as the Chief Operating Officer for the Secretariat of Committee of Chartered Accountants appointed by the Supreme Court in 2009.

He has served as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Accounting and Auditing Standards Monitoring Board and has been a Council Member of the Certified Management Accountants (CMA) of Sri Lanka. Mr. Karunaratne was awarded the CMA Sri Lanka Business Excellence Award at the CMA Sri Lanka National Management Accounting Conference 2023 in recognition of his service to the profession. He has also received “Long Service Award” of the IBSL in 2019 in recognition of his long career and contribution as a resource person at IBSL.

He was the Project Team Leader of the South East Asian Central Banks (SEACEN) Malaysia, research project on “Implementation of Basel III Challenges and Opportunities in SEACEN Countries” and SEACEN published the research in 2013. He serves as a member of several internal and external committees at present.

Mr. Karunaratne holds a Master of Commerce Degree in Finance from the University of New South Wales, Australia and a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Statistics and a Bachelor of Science (Physical Science) Degree with a First class from the University of Colombo. He is a Fellow Member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), UK and a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). Further, he is an Associate Member of the CMA Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lanka opposition questions claims that IMF housing tax is only for kulaks

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s opposition has questioned claims made by government spokesmen that a tax on housing proposed in an International Monetary Fund deal is only limited to rich people but if as promised by President one house is exempt, it is welcome, legislator Harsha de Silva said.

Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe made a promise in parliament that the first house of a citizen will be excluded from the property tax.

Related Sri Lanka to exempt one house from imputed rent wealth tax: President

But opposition legislator Harsha de Silva pointed out that the IMF program documents clearly says taxes will be levied on owner occupied houses on ‘imputed taxes’, not second houses.

Under current inland revenue laws, actual rent income from a second house is already captured as part of taxable income.

The IMF document mentions a threshold value from which taxes will be exempt but not that a whole owner-occupied primary residence will be exempt.

“The tax is imposed on the income of individuals (rather than real property itself) and thus raises central government revenue in accordance with the constitution,” IMF staff said in their report.

“A similar tax was previously included in the Inland Revenue Act. No. 10 of 2006.

“Under this regime, primary residences were exempt and the assessed values for rating purposes were used to determine the base.

“Given the broad exemption and the use of outdated and downward biased annual values, the tax generated hardly any revenue.”

Meanwhile Sri Lanka has promised to impose the housing tax from April 01, 2025.

“…[W]e will introduce an imputed rental income tax on owner-occupied and vacant residential properties before the beginning of the tax year on April 1st, 2025,” the memorandum of economic policies agreed with the IMF said.

“An exemption threshold and a graduated tax rate schedule would make this tax highly progressive.

“The full revenue yield from this tax is estimated at 0.4 percent and would materialize in 2026 (with a partial yield of 0.15 percent in 2025).

“This yield would still fall short by 1 percent of GDP relative to the expected yield of 1.2 percent of GDP from the property tax envisaged for 2025 onwards.”

Presidential Undertaking

“Whatever the President said the IMF agreement says owner occupied house,” De Silva told in parliament.

“It is not the second house that is mentioned in the agreement.

“But there is one thing. I am happy as Samagi Jana Balawegaya, that we have been able to save the middle class in society from a massive tax that was to be imposed.”

In Sri Lanka there is a belief that the most productive citizens are fair game for excessive or expropriationary taxation, just like kulaks were targeted in the Soviet Union for actual expropriation, critics say.

Wealth taxes have had disastrous effects on some US cities like Baltimore, leading to falling populations and dilapidated houses.

Sri Lanka is currently facing a brain drain due to high income tax after on top of depreciation from severe monetary debasement from a flexible exchange rate, which is neither a hard peg nor a clean float.

Sri Lanka has imposed a wide range of taxes on the people to maintain a bloated state, after inflationists engaged in extreme macro-economic policy (tax and rate cuts) glorified in Saltwater-Cambridge doctrine to boost growth, throwing classical economic principles and monetary stability to the winds and driving the country into external default.

The IMF itself gave technical assistance the central bank to calculate potential output inviting the agency to cut rates to close the perceived econometric ‘output gap’.

In the run up to the default, rate cuts triggered multiple external crises, leading to output shocks as stabilization programs were implemented.

Macro-economic Policy

Macro-economic policy as known now was devised by Cambridge academic J M Keynes in the wake of the Great Depression triggered by the Federal Reserve after it invented open market operations and policy rates in the 1920s and also popularized by Harvard academic Alvin Hansen among others.

Macro-economic policy started to de-stabilize countries in peacetime in the interwar years and after World War II it led to the collapse of the Bretton Woods system.

The Great Depression was also a peacetime collapse of what was later known as the roaring 20s’ monetary bubble.

“They have blithely ignored the warnings of economists,” classical economist Ludwig von Mises wrote of European nations which got into trouble from rate cuts and Keynesian stimulus, which brought currency depreciation and protectionism in its wake from the 1930s.

“They have erected trade barriers, they have fostered credit expansion and an easy money policy, they have taken recourse to price control, to minimum wage rates, and to subsidies.

“They have transformed taxation into confiscation and expropriation; they have proclaimed heedless spending as the best method to increase wealth and welfare.

“But when the inevitable consequences of such policies, long before predicted by the economists, became more and more obvious, public opinion did not place the blame on these cherished policies…”

Who….?

In Sri Lanka however there is some understanding of the role played by macro-economists in the most recent crisis.

There are rumblings of unhappiness about ‘central bank independence’ given to an agency to create 5 to 7 percent inflation and currency debasement under a flexible exchange rate and its constitutional status relating to parliamentary control of public finances.

Sri Lanka’s central bank’s current flexible inflation targeting (inflation targeting without a floating rate) regime as well as its 1980s money supply targeting without floating rate has busted the national currency for decades and made it impossible to run budgets, made it difficult for people build houses which are now to be taxed, and also for millions to live and work in the country of their birth.

Fiscal metrics deteriorate each time rate cuts drive the country into currency crises and new taxes are brought in stabilization programs, ousting reformist governments and leading to policy reversals.

Sri Lanka’s citizens have suffered for decades from the privilege given to a few macroeconomists to print money to cut rates with inflationary open market operations and trigger forex shortages.

Related How Sri Lanka’s elections are decided by macro-economists and the IMF: Bellwether

Critics have pointed out that since 1954 in particular, central bank rates cuts which drive the country into external crises and the stabilization programs that follow, have been the main determinant of elections in the country and election of fringe political parties. (Colombo/June13/2024)

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India supports Sri Lanka Coast Guard to boost maritime security

ECONOMYNEXT – India has given 1.2 million US dollars’ worth spare parts to Sri Lanka’s Coast Guard to be used in a vessel also gifted to the Indian Ocean Island on an earlier occasion, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

“Handing over of the large consignment of spares symbolizes India’s commitment to support capability building towards addressing the shared challenges of Maritime Security in the region,” the Indian High Commission said

The spare parts were brought to Sri Lanka on the Indian Coast Guard Ship Sachet, an offshore patrol vessel that was on a two-day visit to the island.

The spares were formally handed over to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard Ship Suraksha which was gifted to Sri Lanka in October 2017 by India.

India has gifted spare parts for the ship in June 2021 and April 2022 and also provided assistance in refilling of Halon cylinders in January 2024. (Colombo/June23/2024)

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