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The Daily Mirror’s exclusive report on findings of the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks

6 March 2021 02:13 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The question arises whether the report has sufficient material to take legal action against those held responsible for the heinous attack

The then President was aware of threats by IS activists in the region and wanted to ensure that such activities won’t take place in Sri Lanka

After President Sirisena assumed duties the NSC meetings were not held regularly

 

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) appointed to probe the April 21, 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks handed over its final report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on February 1, 2021 after an extensive inquiry lasting fifteen months. The report or certain sections of the report have been ultimately tabled in Parliament and is to be taken up for debate sometime this month. 
 
With numerous twists and turns along the way, the question arises whether the report has sufficient material to take legal action against those held responsible for the heinous attack. It appears that Colombo’s Archbishop Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, some Cabinet ministers and civil society groups are not happy with the findings in the sections of the final PCoI report which has been released so far.
 
In this situation the Daily Mirror carried out a review on the final report pertaining to the Easter Sunday attacks. 
 
 
Accountability and the Dysfunctional Government 
Two chapters of the report referred to the failure on the part of the political leadership and senior public officers to prevent such a terrorist attack which targeted two Catholic Churches in Kotahena and Negombo and a Christian Church in Batticaloa had stirred dangerous undercurrents of hate against the country’s Muslim community and to a point resulted in nearly polarizing the nation again.  
 
The report identified the powers vested upon the political and security chiefs who served during the previous yahapalana government and had failed to prevent the attack.
 
According to the report former President Maithripala Sirisena, the person who appointed the commission of inquiry as the then Defence Minister had the power to formulate policies, programmes and projects, monitoring and evaluating the various aspects of Defence and National Security and the country’s intelligence services.
 
The suicide attacks were post-war Sri Lanka’s deadliest terrorist attacks on a single day which sadly could have been prevented if the initial warnings received from foreign intelligence services were taken seriously.
 
The report mentions that the then President Sirisena was clearly aware of the threat by IS activists in the region and had wanted to ensure that such activities will not take place in Sri Lanka. The PCoI referred to the National Security Council (NSC) meetings during the period prior to April 4, 2019, and the period after April 4, 2019.

 

 
 
Lapse at National Security Council (NSC) meetings
In the Accountability chapter the report mentions the existence of NSC and its functions as a customary practice without any legal framework. The main platform where all the political and security heads meet to discuss matters relating to National Security had functioned as a platform without any legal frame work. 
 
The report mentions that the NSC was given statutory recognition under the Public Security Ordinance in terms of Emergency (National Security Council) Regulation No. 1 of 1999 published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 1081/19 dated May 27, 1999. It established a NSC, with the President as head, charged with the maintenance of national security with the authority to direct security operations and matters incidental to it.   
 
“No doubt this regulation lapsed with the ending of emergency in the country. However, by custom and practice, the NSC was in existence as part of the administrative structure even thereafter,” the report mentioned.
 
After President Sirisena assumed duties the NSC meetings were not held regularly and sometimes it was held in the relevant month. The report clearly mentioned that former president’s lack of appreciation of the duties and functions as Defence Minister had spurred Zharan and his followers to carry IS activities in the country. The former president initially aware of Zharan’s extremist activities in January, 2019 and that it was the point at which he had come to know that Zahran was spreading IS ideology in the country.
 
However, according to the evidence recorded before the Commission by former State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Nilantha Jayawardena the presentation of Zharan’s IS ideology and spreading of extremism had been recorded since November 2016 and several intelligence reports also submitted to then President Sirisena in this regard. 
 
With all these facts and statements recorded before the Commission it had observed that the action taken by then president Sirisena falls short of the duties and responsibilities placed upon him as Executive President and Minister of Defence.
 
 
Period after receiving foreign intelligence reports on the attack  
According to the Commission’s observations in the final report the evidence recorded by then Secretary of Defence, IGP and Director SIS mentioned that none of them had conveyed the prior warning received by a foreign counterpart to President Sirisena. However, PCoI report observed that two officers IGP and Secretary of Defence have no reason to protect President Sririsena. 
 
It was also mentioned that the Commission was cautious in accepting the evidence of President Sirisena and Director SIS on the above mentioned mater. The Commission also viewed that the credibility of both these witnesses on the aspect of receiving the initial warning and circulation of particular intelligence raises serious concerns.
   
Commission had also observed that the Director SIS had tried to protect Presidnet Sirisena by providing evidence that he had never shared intelligence reports with the president. However, the Commission had found several confidential intelligence report shared by the Director SIS with President Sirisena prior to the attacks. 
 
Accordingly, the Commission notes that President Sirisena had travelled to India and Singapore from April 16 to 21 without making any acting appointment as the Defence Minister in spite of the knowledge he influenced of possible threat from Zharan and his IS motives. Based on the evidence recorded before the Commission it had observed that there is criminal liability on President Sirisena’s acts or lapses mentioned above and recommended the Attorney General (AG) to consider conducting criminal proceedings against President Sirisena under nay suitable provision in the Penal Code. 
 
  
Former Premier Ranil Wickremesinge and others also accountable 
The Commission had observed the whole dysfunctional situation of the previous ‘Yahapalana’ government to prevent such terrorist attack. The PCoI observed that the soft approach of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Islamic extremism was also a reason behind the terror attack. The report mentioned that some topics related to the Islamic extremism had appeared only once and it had never discussed those topics again. 
 
According to the evidence given by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe the government did not want take measures to ban the IS organization because there were no reports mentioning that ISIS propaganda was taking place in Sri Lanka. The report also mentioned that according to the evidence recorded by several other witnesses who were in the ‘Yahapalana’ government, was clear that they were reluctant to take strong action against rising Islamic extremism due to its dependence on support for the Muslim political parties. 
 
“Upon considering the evidence, it is the view of the PCoI that the lack of approach of Mr. Wickremesinghe towards Islamic extremism as Prime Minister was one of the primary reasons for the failure on the part of the then government to take proactive steps towards Islam extremism,” the report mentioned. 
 
The report also mentioned that former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, former SIS Director Nilananth Jayawaradena and former Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) Sisira Mendis as officials who were accountable for the terror attack and directed the AG to take necessary legal action against these officers. 
 
 
Preparations for the attack and missed opportunities
The PCoI report identifies the details of several places where Zahran had conducted training camps and seminars. The weapon and ideology trainings conducted by Zharan, Ilham Ahamed, Pulasthini Mahendran alias Sarah Jasmin who had already fled the country after the attack, Fathima Jiffrey who blasted herself at the Dematgoda residence and Naufer Moulavi and Rilawan. 
 
The report said some female members of the group had been given three-day training at Palamunai and Kattankudy. Zharan had also maintained several safe houses at Ninthavur, Samanthurai, Saindamardu, Span towers, Mt Lavinia, Wellwatta, Malwana, Enderamulla, Kollupitiyai, Thihariya, Valachchainai, Katupotha, Kuliyapitiya and Hettipola. 
 
According to the report that there were many occasions at which security forces could have arrested Zharan and his team members but unfortunately due to the ignoring of these situations the security forces had missed the opportunity. Those facts were also elaborated in the report. 
 
 
Foreign Involvement 
The evidence provided by several key witnesses including President Sirisena mentioned that Zharan and his group could have been handled by a foreign link and that link was behind the attack. Many Security heads stated at the Commission sessions that Zharan was not the real leader of the group.  However, the report observed that according to the plan outlined by Zharan he had decided to commit suicide as the leader similar to the suicide attack carried out by the leader of IS group in Bangladesh. However, there was evidence that Zharan had decided to carry a suicide attack after the discovery of explosives in Wanathawilluwa. 
 
According to the report the question arises with the evidence provided by former SIS Director Nilantha Jayawaradena where the only witness who mentioned the identity of a possible foreign involvement behind the attack. Based on the evidence provided by him an Indian named ‘Abu Hind’ was a possible foreign participant who may have triggered the attack, this was mentioned in the report. He also mentioned that the intelligence agencies that provided him with the intelligence in 2019 on April 4, 20, and 21 may have had a hand in the attack. 
 
The evidence provided by Zharan’s wife also revealed that around the end of 2017, Zharan was in contact with one Abu Hind who was in India. Naufer also knew and communicated with Abu Hind. Zaharan told Hadiya that Abu Hind has links to Syria. They used to speak in Tamil using Threema and telegram apps. They used to send each other voice recordings, the report mentioned. 
 
 
Recommendations 
PCoI probing Easter Sunday attacks set out its recommendations on Administration of Government, air space, structure of All Ceylon Jamaithul Ulama (ACJU), religious monument, assistance to protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act, Attorney General’s Department.
 
Identifying recommendations for State Intelligence Service the Commission stated that there should be a legal framework to enable SIS officers to perform their duties without fear of political interference. The report also recommends the strengthening of capacity for content monitoring management and removal of social media. 
In the recommendations it was mentioned that when President is overseas and in the event that Prime Minister is not acting as the Defence Minister, make it mandatory for the Prime Minister to be informed of all the national security information. 
 
The report also elaborates its recommendations to wide range of subjects such as National Security, national intelligence, using of mobile phones, developments to the Police and involving women in preventing terrorism.    
Finally, the report further recommended that on formulating an effective Counter Terrorism Law and Wahhabism must be banned in Sri Lanka. Religious education and the construction of places of religious worship must be regulated. Setting up of a monitoring system on religious institutions and religious preachers was also recommended by the Commission report.  A National Defence Policy and National Security Policy must be adopted and given constitutional recognition. 
 
A new national intelligence mechanism must be adopted supported by a legal framework. Exclusivism must be eliminated and a Sri Lankan identity established as a national priority. Compensation paid to the dead and injured must be increased. Properties and money of the suicide bombers must be confiscated to meet part the expenses and finally Religious Harmony Act must be enacted, the report mentioned. 

  Comments - 1

  • Mokan Saturday, 06 March 2021 05:19 AM

    You have not mentioned any thing about banning extremist buddist organizations.


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