By Rathindra Kuruwita
National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim and his associates had initially planned to carry out a suicide attack in 2020, former SDIG of the CID, Ravi Seneviratne on Friday night told the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.
Seneviratne said that while they were aware of Zahran’s ideology, it was during the CID investigations into the Jihadist Training Camp at Wanathawilluwa that they had found his direct involvement with extremists.
Seneviratne had earlier said that they presented former IGP Pujith Jayasundara with a report on the Jihadist training camp and information elicited from the suspects arrested at the camp on January 26, 2019. However, as the IGP was banned from attending the National Security Council (NSC), the report could not be sent there.
The AG’s Department representative leading the evidence asked the witness if he had also received a letter in early April 2019, sent by former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena about a possible terrorist attack.
“Jayawardena sent it to the former IGP on April 09, 2019 about the attacks. On April 16, 2019, I got a copy of the letter from Jayasundara. I was out of the country on an official visit and I only came to office on April 16. We were to arrest those who were mentioned in the letter. So I forwarded the letter to Director of the CID, Shani Abeysekera and ASP Wickramasekera. But Shani had only seen the letter on April 23, 2019, after the attack.”
The AG’s Department representative then asked the witness if he had received a text message from the former SIS Director on the morning of April 21 warning that an attack would take place on that day. The former SDIG said had seen that text after the bomb explosions.
The AG’s Department official said: “After the attacks, MP Harin Fernando told the media that his father had asked him not to go to Church on April 21. From what was revealed at the PCoI, police sergeant Nandalal, who was involved in CID investigations into the Mawanella Buddha statue vandalisation and the Wanathawilluwa Jihadist camp, had called Harin’s father on April 20 night. It is likely that Nandalal warned him of the attacks. How would CID officials know about such an attack on April 20?”
Seneviratne said that although he was not aware how Nandalal had received information about the attacks, Nilantha Jayawardena, on April 20, had informed him that a terror attack would take place on April 21. “I shared that information with Shani and ASP Wickramesekera,” the witness said.
Seneviratne also told the PCoI about NTJ preparations for the attacks. The witness said that Zahran and his associates were planning to carry out an attack from 2017. Unhappy about the progress they had made in 2018, Zahran had asked Shaheed Abdul-Haq, who was behind vandalizing Buddha statues in Mawanella, to attack the statues.
Seneviratne said: “Zahran also asked those who were with him, if they wanted to become fighters or suicide bombers. While Zahran was away, NTJ members decided to carry out suicide attacks outside Sri Lanka. However Zahran then motivated them to carry out attacks here. They decided that the attacks should take place in 2020. However, by the first week of April 2019, Zahran decided to launch the attack as soon as possible. Although there were initial disagreements, NTJ members agreed by April 09 and by April 17, they decided to launch the attacks on Easter Sunday, which fell on April 21. Looking at these revelations I felt that Zahran was being handled by someone else. I wanted to find out who this was before I retired.”
At his point the AG’s Department official wrote a name on a piece of paper and showed it to Seneviratne . “Could this be the person?” he asked the witness.
“Yes, it is possible. The name you showed me had worked with Zahran,” Seneviratne said.
The former SDIG overseeing the CID also revealed that NTJ had arranged for a hiding place where those who failed to carry out the suicide attack could gather. “This was a place of worship in Colombo. The person who failed to carry out the attack should get there and tell another person that he was there. Then a person would come to pick up the unsuccessful attacker and take him to a safe house.”
Seneviratne also wrote the name of the person who was to transport the unsuccessful attackers into a safe house. The witness said that person had been arrested.
“We must find out those who handled Zahran. Until they are revealed, the threat to national security will always be there,” he said.
Members of the PCoI also asked Seneviratne if the NTJ had received financial aid from an Islamic State. The witness said that the CID had not been able to find such a link. “We found about 42 bank accounts belonging to this group. They all belong to Sri Lankans and the money had been provided by the Ibrahim brothers (Mohamed Ibrahim Insaf Ahmed who carried out the suicide bombing at Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo and Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahmed who carried out the suicide bombing at Shangri- La hotel in Colombo).”
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.