Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake yesterday said it is not possible to eradicate threats from global terrorists totally and stressed that there could be lone wolf attacks in Sri Lanka in the future though there is no immediate threat. He said this while testifying before the parliamentary select committee looking into the Easter Sunday attacks yesterday afternoon.
He confirmed that Minister Rishad Bathiudeen had phoned him and told him to check if a person by the name of Ishan Ahamed was arrested during search operations to find the suspects of the Easter Sunday attacks as he was the son of an officer who is working with him.
Following are excerpts:
Committee Chairman Ananda Kumarasiri - Did anyone call you while you were directing search operations and try to influence you to release a suspect?
In my capacity as Army Commander, I have come into contact with many parliamentarians and ministers. Therefore they call me individually. They used to contact me with requests even before the April 21 bombings. Minister Bathiudeen called me and asked me whether a person named Ishan Ahamed had been arrested. I told him that I have to check on it. Then he called me again for the second time. I said I am looking into the matter. Then I got it confirmed. I told him that he had been arrested when he called me for the third time. I am supposed to hand over any individual arrested by the Army to the Police within 24 hours of an arrest. After we hand them over to them they could be detained for one and a half years by the police. This was what I meant when I told Minister Bathiudeen that he should be telephoning me after one and a half years. He told me that the suspect is the son of an officer working with him and to look into it. However, he did not try to influence me.
Minister Ravi Karunanayake- Did any other politician call you?
No, no one called me or tried to influence me. Neither the President nor the Prime Minister has ever influenced me or the army.
Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka- Were you joking about telephoning me after one and a half years? Does it take one and a half years to release or convict any arrested person?
A person could be kept in custody for one and a half years according to the earlier law. However, it had been reduced to a year.
Fonseka – Had the army managed to uncover details on the terror network at the time you carried out search operations and arrests?
Yes. By that time we had uncovered many vital details on the terror network.
Karunanayake – Is it correct to say the forces have managed to score another victory in its struggle against terrorism?
We are dealing with global terrorists. We are confronting an unknown enemy. We have managed to contain them. At the moment we are working towards preventing the terror groups from carrying out their activities in the country. One cannot say global terrorism is over in Sri Lanka. It is not practical to end terrorism in a single nation when there is global terrorism.
Karunanayake – Has the army intelligence units teamed up with India to deal with today’s situation?
Army intelligence units work more closely with the police than ever before. Some defence officials maintain contact with Indian intelligence and other foreign intelligence units using their contacts. However, our intelligence units are becoming more international based.
Karunanayake – Has our intelligence apparatus become weak?
We had a sound intelligence network during the time of Field Marshal Fonseka. However, there have been a few setbacks. We now have an integrated international intelligence network.
Karunanayake-Some say it had suffered due to arrests?
A few arrests will not affect intelligence services. Some intelligence agents were lost during the war as well.
Fonseka – The Defense Secretary has declared that there are no immediate threats from ISIS. However, they don’t carry out attacks regularly. Long boost attacks which are carried out within a fairly long space of time is sufficient for them to fulfil their objectives. He says 99 per cent of terror groups are contained and destroyed. Are the present threats coming from this remaining one per cent?
Our forces have achieved a lot. It is not possible for a single nation to destroy global terrorism 100 per cent. We have to do more.
Fonseka- Terrorists usually don’t carry out attacks outside the battlefield. The LTTE set off bombs in Colombo during the final stages of the war without warning. There were three explosions in and around Colombo during the final stages of the war in the space of eight months.
You are correct. There is always room for lone wolf attacks in Sri Lanka by global terrorists. We are conscious of it. We are even keeping tabs on the LTTE to see that they do not resurface.
Fonseka- You don't need the LTTE to come back and carry out attacks. Even one individual could carry out lone wolf attacks.
Lone wolf attacks can be carried out from the water or by direct firing. It can come at any time and from anywhere.
Fonseka – How long would it take to build up a good intelligence service to secure the nation from ISIS for good?
At this point, Minister Karunanayake suggested that the media should be removed as questions which were being asked were of a sensitive nature. However, Field Marshal Fonseka assured the committee that he will raise such questions later and that he would stick to the less sensitive subject matter. Committee chairman Kumarasinghe, however, asked the media to leave the room at that point. The Army Commander was questioned for about 20 minutes without the media present thereafter. (Yohan Perera and Ajith Siriwardana)