by Rathindra Kuruwita
STF intelligence officers had stopped probing Islamic extremism in the East as a gazette issued in August 2017 entrusted them with dealing with organised crimes and drugs, former Commandant of the STF, M.R. Latheef, on Saturday, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the Easter Sunday attacks.
“Thereafter, we focussed on our new mandate. However, I expected that the STF too would be involved in dealing with rising Islamic extremism. In the past, the STF commandant and the head of STF intelligence took part in the weekly intelligence coordination committee meetings. When I became the head of the STF, I was informed that there was no need for the STF to attend those meetings.”
The chairman of the Commission then asked the witness whether by 2019, the focus of the STF had been completely shifted from eradicating terrorism to tackling organised crime. Latheef said that to deal with organised crimes, the STF had to assist the Police Narcotic Bureau, the Police Crimes Division and the Women and Children’s Bureau.
“We focused on these from 2018. Our main role was to assist the police. We were also asked by the Presidential Secretariat to look into environmental destruction,” he said.
Latheef was also asked if there had been transfers of STF intelligence officers deployed in the East on his watch. The witness said there had been 31 transfers. Some were sent for advanced training at the State Intelligence Service (SIS) and Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). There were 20 such transfers. There had been two transfers over misconduct, four based on appeals, and five had been removed over indiscipline, he said.
The Chairman: “The STF commandant before you, Ranjith Perera, attached these 30 intelligence officers to camps in the east. They were the ones who were transferred, weren’t they?”
“Yes,” Latheef said.
Chairman: “So these officers were removed and placed somewhere else?”
Latheef: “That had been done due to service needs and requests by commanders in various camps. We were also not asked to look at Islamic extremism and Community Police, who consisted of people from the same areas also found nothing.”
Chairman: “Why didn’t the SIS ask for your help?”
Latheef: “That’s a puzzle to me too.”
The Commission also questioned Latheef why he had not earlier submitted to the commission reports by STF intelligence officers warning of rising Islamic extremism in the East. During his first appearance at the PCoI in late September, Latheef said STF intelligence officers had never reported on the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. In his second appearance, earlier this month, Commissioners directed Latheef’s attention to a report sent by the STF intelligence officers to the Commanding Officer of the Kalawanchikudi STF camp on 24 March, 2018. This report referred to Zahran and the NTJ and Latheef acknowledged that the report referred to NTJ and Zahran.
Commissioners: “Why didn’t you include STF reports on Zahran and the NTJ in the documents you submitted to the Commission?”
SDIG Latheef: “I don’t know if the documents you have were received by the STF headquarters. Can you please request a report on this from the STF headquarters? These three reports were sent to STF regional camps. It should be checked whether they were referred to the headquarters and it should be ascertained whether any officer at the headquarters had inquired into them.”
On Saturday, this issue was taken up again, when the Attorney General’s Department official leading the evidence asked Latheef why he had not submitted two reports dated March 18, 2017 and March 24, 2017, warning of NTJ and Zahran, to the PCoI.
“I only presented reports after July 2017,” the witness said.
The AG’s Department official said: “None of these reports speak of NTJ or their involvement in a clash at the Aliyar Junction in Kattankudy. It is after this that Zahran and others left the area.”
“There was no specific reason and I wanted to show th 2019 reports,” the witness said.
At this point the Chairman of the PCoI stressed that the PCoI had asked him to submit all STF intelligence reports in his possession on Islamic Extremism since 2015. Letheef affirmed that it indeed was the case.
“The main reason why the STF was established was to combat terrorism, am I right?” the Chairman asked.
“Yes,” the witness said.
“At that time the STF had a strong intelligence wing, didn’t it?” the Chairman asked.
“A small team was trained to gather information,” Latheef said.
“If I say these men were given special training on gathering intelligence, would you accept?” the Chairman asked.
“Yes, in 2006 a team of Indian intelligence officials gave a training,” Latheef said.
“So, the STF had a strong intelligence network in the East. Why weren’t they able to detect what was brewing underneath?” the Chairman asked.
“We received a lot of support from Muslims during the war. But as I said earlier our focus shifted in 2017,” Latheef said.
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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.