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A terrorist attack senselessly politicized

06 Apr 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

However, it must be the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) that is  most happy about the implication of India in the incident, as it had been accused for the past three years of the crime

Despite former President Maithripala Sirisena seeming to have landed in hot water over his recent statement on the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, so long as his motive is not clear one should not jump the gun to call him a fool.  
Sirisena while talking to media in Kandy claimed on March 22 that he knew who really carried out the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks and that he was prepared to disclose the information if the judiciary ordered him to do so. The Sunday Times reported that on questioning by the CID he had stated that India was behind the attacks. He had claimed that an Indian diplomat whom he named had not only confessed to him about the attacks but also the reason. 
Now, various political parties are making various claims on the former President’s remarks and his statement to the CID. However, it must be the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) that is  most happy about the implication of India in the incident, as it had been accused for the past three years of the crime. 

It has been the general trend among political parties in the country from the beginning to attempt to drag their adversaries into the Easter Sunday mayhem. For instance, Wimal Weerawansa was after his main rival, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) citing as evidence Mohamed Ibrahim, a wealthy spice trader and father of two suicide bombers involved in the terrorist attacks having been included in a nomination paper (national list) of the latter for the 2015 Parliamentary election. 

Gruesome massacre

The SLPP was also the party that most successfully exploited the gruesome massacre of mainly Christians by Muslim terrorists. Six days after the incident Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared his intention to contest the Presidential election that was scheduled to be held in the same year with a promise to wipe out terrorism and extremism from the country. The relentless anti-Muslim campaign by the party with an incredibly hyped portrayal of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as omnipotent catapulted him to the Presidency in November 2019. 
One would wonder if the premeditated, politically motivated and emotionally charged targeting of certain Muslim politicians such as Rishard Bathiudeen, provincial governors Azath Salley and M.L.M.A.Hisbullah by the SLPP and the media supportive of it somewhat distracted the investigators. In May and June 2019, it also brought the country to the brink of communal mayhem like the anti-Tamil Black July pogrom in 1983. 

The United National Party (UNP) was playing a subdued role in respect of the terrorist attacks then as it was the ruling party at the time of the incident. Yet, it attempted to put the blame on Sirisena who was the President and thereby the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Later it also attempted to exploit the feelings of the Christian community. Two days before to the election of a President by the Parliament in 2022 after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country, Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that he plans to obtain the assistance of the Scotland Yard police of the UK to complete the investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks. The Catholic Church rejected the call claiming that Wickremesinghe, who was contesting the Presidential election in Parliament, was using the attack to achieve his political goal.

Hidden hand

However, on September 11, 2022, President Ranil Wickremesinghe during a meeting with USAID Administrator Samantha Power said that Scotland Yard has been requested to review the reports and reach a  conclusion on claims that there was a hidden hand behind the bombings. Yet, after more than a year, on October 2 last year, the Daily Mirror quoting British diplomatic sources said no such request had been made as far as they were aware.  
When Britain’s Channel 4 broadcast a documentary in early September last year claiming that there was a link between the State Intelligence Service (ISI) and the National Thawheed Jama’ath (NTJ) that carried out the terrorist attacks, the President appointed a committee headed by retired Supreme Court Judge S.I.Imam to look into the veracity of the claim. The committee had to present its report on or before October 31 last year but nothing was heard about it thereafter. 

The President also promised to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) alongside the Imam committee to look into the claim by former Attorney General Dappula de Livera that there was a grand conspiracy behind the Easter Sunday attacks, but the PSC never saw the light of the day. 
Ironically, the Defence Ministry which also functions under the President had issued a statement saying that the Channel 4 narrative was “malicious” and “unsubstantiated,” and that through “transparent investigations” the “Sri Lanka government has demonstrated an unwavering commitment” to uncovering the truth. That means the terrorist attacks were a closed issue. 
The SLPP, as we stated earlier exploited the terrorist attacks to the hilt, using the media institutions supportive of it. It, during the Yahapalana Government, gave an impression that it would take the mastermind of the crime and all those involved in it to task, once it came to power. However, on assuming power Gotabaya Rajapaksa did nothing afresh, he let the commission appointed by President Sirisena continue. 
When frustration mounted among the Christians and the victim community, the SLPP government said that the mastermind was already behind bars. The then Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara told Parliament several times in 2021 that Naufer Moulavi who was arrested during the UNP-led government was the mastermind behind the terror attacks.
While the SLPP was struggling to answer the questions about their pledge to find the mastermind of the crime, a theory war floated in 2020 that the SLPP leadership, particularly Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was behind the carnage. It started not with any new finding by any investigative arm but based purely on a local adage “One who carries the prey is the hunter.” Nevertheless, it has become a deep-rooted perception now among many Sri Lankans, especially those against the SLPP.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa who was a minister during the attacks is now the loudest voice demanding the revelation of the mastermind of it. He on September 6 last year, during the controversy over the UK’s Channel 4 documentary called for an international investigation into the suicide bombings. Two days later in Parliament, he urged the President to hand over the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks to former Director of the CID Shani Abeysekara. Then he suggested Scotland Yard, prompting the Sunday Times to point out his contradictory suggestions.  
Moreover, after two weeks, on September 21, he said that “Abu Hindh” was the mastermind of the terrorist attacks, despite Acting Defence Minister Pramitha Banadara Thennakoon having revealed on the previous day that Abu Hindh was a pseudonym that was used by an international intelligence agent to get in contact with extremists. Premadasa also pledged on Wednesday to appoint, within two months after he is elected to power, a seven-member Commission, consisting of local and international experts and to set up a permanent investigation office, consisting of members of local as well as security and intelligence agencies. 

Tenure in office

Former President Sirisena who resisted calls during his tenure in office for an international probe wanted such an investigation following the Channel 4 allegations, prompting questions if it is not an admission that no proper investigation was conducted when he was in office. Now he is accusing India whose primary foreign intelligence arm provided information to their Sri Lankan counterparts about a possible attack, before it was launched.

Before Sirisena, it was the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Nalnda Jayatissa who pointed a finger at India in 2021, but only to be rejected by his leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake within days. They also subscribed to the adage “one who carries the prey is the hunter.”   However, Dissanayake while talking to a group of Sri Lankans domiciled in Canada last month during his visit to that country ruled out fresh investigations under a government led by National People’s Power (NPP) - an amalgam of  the JVP and several social groups -  and said missed points in the probes so far concluded had leads towards the culprits.   
All these are politics that do not address the pain in the minds of the victim community or the unresolved issues raised by their leaders.