The political and intelligence bungle leading up to the Easter Sunday Attacks is one of its kind of miscarriages of national duty. Much of that oversight is public knowledge, but not all of that is officially chronicled. Now the bits and bytes are being revealed before a Presidential Commission that was appointed to look into the Easter Sunday Attacks.
Last week, former IGP Pujith Jayasundara made an explosive revelation before the commission. He said Abdul Latif Jameel Mohammed, one of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers, had met with an intelligence agent 45 minutes before he blew himself up at the Dehiwala Tropical Inn lodge.
Abdul Latif Jameel Mohammed tried to explode his explosive-laden rucksack at the Hotel Taj Samudra in the coordinated attack on churches and hotels in the morning. But the switch of his bomb malfunctioned, forcing him to abort the mission. He left the hotel in a three-wheeler and arrived at the Dehiwala lodge, where he left his belongings and went to pray in a nearby mosque. He blew up later in the day though it is not known whether the bomb accidentally exploded while he was trying to fix it.
Hailing from a well-to-do family in Kandy, he studied aerospace engineering at Kingston University, England in 2006-7, but did not complete the degree. He later went to Australia for studies, before returning to Sri Lanka. In 2014, he tried to travel to Syria, and reached Turkey, but failed to proceed. On his return to Sri Lanka, he was not investigated by the security agencies. Unlike other common sensual states that make attempting to join a foreign terrorist group a criminal offence, Sri Lanka, as former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe proddly paraded his folly, does not have such laws.
Latif struck at home. Officials have not revealed whether he was also used a double agent, though, he was interviewed by the CID at least once.
President wanted Pujith Jayasundara to take responsibility in exchange for a full pension and a diplomatic posting
Known Zaharan’s associates such as Badurdeen Mohamed Mohideen, alias Army Mohideen, an ex-army soldier was used as an informant by the CID. The poorly-thought-out strategy effectively helped terrorists to dupe the intelligence apparatus into underestimating the nature of Islamic extremist threat.
However, the latest revelation by the former IGP was a new twist and official sources have not commented on it.
Last week, the commission reprimanded the private secretary of the former President Maithripala Sirisena, and three auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Colombo for making public statements that challenged the evidence revealed before the commission. Considering this as a precedent, others would likely to keep mum. Which would mean only if the commission probes into the evidence given by the former IGP and summons the relevant individuals that the country would know the full story.
During the last two weeks, the spotlight of the proceedings is on ex-President Maithripala Sirisena. The former Defence Secretary and the IGP have alleged that the President should take full responsibility for the Easter Sunday attack. Former IGP Pujith Jayasundara told the commission that President Sirisena instructed him not to conduct a public inquiry into Islamic extremism in the country. “Sri Lankans have died in Syria. This is an Islamic issue and it could get worse in the future. There are Muslim ministers and members in the government. They might get aggrieved. Therefore, this should be done with utmost caution.” the President told IGP. He then instructed State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Nilantha Jayawardene to monitor extremist activities.
Earlier Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando told the commission that the president instructed him to not to invite IGP Jayasundara to the National Security Council (NSC). Jayasundara, as the IGP, is also a member of the NSC, but was not invited after he fell foul with the President over a memo he wrote to the National Police Commission over the transfer of the former CID IP Nishantha Silva. That was after the Chief of Defence Staff Ravindra Wijegunawardena complained at the National Security Council that Nishantha Silva was trying to arbitrarily arrest him. The President ordered the IGP to immediately remove him from investigations - notwithstanding the President is not supposed to meddle with police transfers - which is a matter under the purview of the National Police Commission.
“Three days later, the President called me and asked who had transferred Nishantha. I told he did. “I did not say to transfer him,” President said and hung up the phone,” Hemasiri Fernando said.
A few days later, when I went to see the President, the latter told me, “Look what he (IGP) has done. He also wrote to the Police Commission making a reference to the Security Council.” I ordered not to bring the IGP to the Security Council.”
“Accordingly, I informed the then IGP Pujith Jayasundara of the President’s order. Senior DIG Ravi Seneviratne, who was in charge of the CID, was brought to the Security Council instead of the IGP.”
By then the President had already not invited Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene from the National Security Council meetings, after the Constitutional coup in late 2018. He did not even invite Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, though he in a rush swore in the latter as the PM, triggering a constitutional crisis. When all the hell broke loose and the country was reeling from the Easter Sunday attacks, the President wanted IGP Jayasundara to be the fallen guy and take responsibility in exchange for a full pension and a diplomatic posting anywhere in the world of his choice.
Critics of Yahapalanaya have habitually blamed the tug-of-war between the President and the Premier for prolonged dysfunction in the government, including the security lapses leading to the terrorist mayhem. They are right on many counts, but the national security, and by extension, the Easter Sunday attacks are not among them. The President, as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces was in full control of national security, even to the extent he could prevent his Prime Minister, State Defence Secretary and IGP, from attending the national security council meetings. Unfolding evidence before the commission reveals a president who is jealously guarding his authority over the national security, but, seemingly not fully competent in discharging his responsibilities. A President who is petty-minded, insecure and clueless of the nature of national security challenges of Islamic extremism. The NSC, a National Security Advisor and a horde of advisors and experts exist in most countries to advise the elected officials on the complex decision making on national security. However, they can do only to the extent that the leaders are willing to listen. Some leaders, especially the Third World ones have huge egos and their countries lack tradition and institutions, that make them less welcoming of saner counsel. Constitutional provisions have not held back the president from acting in defence of national security. Nor did the 19th Amendment dilute his powers over national security, nor would the 20th Amendment would especially enhance it.
It would be the personalities of the individuals in the office that would make the difference. Then and now Sri Lankans have elected presidents they deserve.
Would the 20A - a personalized wish list for the concentration of powers of the state at hands of the executive- make national security extra-precarious under a wrong person as the commander in chief? Probably not, the current constitutional provisions provide enough powers for that to happen. But, it would surely make much of other areas of governance hither too protected from absolutism becoming a mirror image of the holder of the executive office.
Follow @RangaJayasuriya on Twitter