January 28, 2020
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    Unravelling the puzzle

    May 24, 2019

    The nation that was shocked and petrified over the Easter Sunday Islam terrorist attacks was then puzzled over the report of prior intelligence information on the impending attacks. The people were wondering who was responsible for non-action on intelligence reports from an agency of a neighbouring country.

    Although President Maithripala Sirisena immediately called a meeting of the newspaper editors and media heads and stated that the then Defence Secretary and Inspector General of Police were totally responsible, a section of the media and a section of the government too continued a blame-game resulting in major doubts in the minds of the people.

    Now the puzzle is being unravelled as the Attorney General (AG) has been instructed to take action against the former Defence Secretary, IGP, DIGs and others for shirking their responsibilities, despite receiving advance notice on the Islamist terror attacks. The presidential committee of Inquiry, headed by a Supreme Court Judge, in their Interim Reports, named the persons responsible for neglecting their duties and recommended CID investigations.

    Based on the Interim Reports, AG has directed the CID to launch a comprehensive probe against top security officials including former Defence Secretary, IGP, State Intelligence Chief, Commander of the Special Task Force and the Senior DIG of the Western Province. The AG had made these directions based on the two interim reports and recommendations of the Committee appointed by the President following the Easter Sunday bombings.

    Criminal investigation

    The media reports stated that the AG, in two letters to the Acting IGP, has directed that a comprehensive criminal investigation be conducted by the CID against the IGP. It has further directed Acting IGP to forward investigative material pertaining to the said investigation to him for consideration.

    The matter will also refer to the National Police Commission (NPC) to take disciplinary action against the Senior DIG in charge of the Western Province, Commander of the Special Task Force and the Chief of State Intelligence for their duty lapses.

    Earlier, President Sirisena confided to his colleagues that he was pained by unreasonable criticisms levelled against him not only by the unbridled social media but also by a section of the mainstream print and audiovisual media. A section of the media had shown their prejudiced mindset by their foregone conclusion without a trial that President Sirisena knew about the Easter Sunday attacks and did not take steps to prevent it.

    President Sirisena addressed the newspaper editors and heads of audiovisual media institutions five days after the Easter Sunday bomb explosion and revealed the position with regard to the intelligence report sent by a neighbouring country. He acknowledged that there was a serious lapse on the part of Defence Secretary and Inspector General of Police, who failed to inform him about the intelligence agency letter received on April 4, warning about a possible attack. “If I had known that, I would have cancelled all my engagements and taken effective steps to provide adequate security to churches and hotels,” he said.

    The intelligence letter warned of possible attacks on churches, places of public gatherings and VIPs. “IGP has sent that letter to Staff DIG and it was sent from table to table and finally it was forwarded to DIG Dissanayake of VIP Security, who, in turn, forwarded it to officers in-charge of security of VIPs protection. I was not informed. Neither my security head nor the head of Prime Minister’s security was informed. Both Defence Secretary and IGP came to wish me on New Year Day (April 14) and they did not say a word about this warning letter. It was a serious lapse on their part and shirk of responsibility,” President Sirisena clarified to newspaper editors and heads of audiovisual media.

    He revealed that because of the serious lapse, he had asked Defence Secretary and IGP to tender resignations immediately. He added that an appropriate process will be implemented while completely reorganising the security services including State Intelligence Service and Intelligence Units of the Police and Tri-forces, to prevent recurrence of these kinds of serious lapses.

    President’s statement

    After disclosing these steps, President Sirisena gave adequate time to media personnel to question him. There were many questions and the President answered them truthfully.

    One would have expected the media to conduct their duties with responsibility after this clarification by the Executive President. Although the media reported the President’s statement, they did not refrain from continuing their tirade against the President. Most of them continued to blame the President in their editorials and lead articles. They did not change their foregone conclusion that the President knew about impending bomb explosions and failed to stop it.

    While analyzing the undue criticism of the President by a section of media, it is also essential to point out the constructive role played by responsible media to defuse tension among communities after the Easter Sunday Islamic terrorist attacks.

    They gave adequate publicity to military operations to control the situation. At the media briefing, President Sirisena, referring to the current operations, raids and arrests of suspects, praised the law enforcement and intelligence services for their efficiency and dedication in responding to this situation.

    The Emergency has been extended for another month to facilitate operations to arrest suspects and search for explosives and to ensure a peaceful environment in the country. What have been enacted by gazette are clauses pertaining to suppressing terrorism only. If these enactments were not made, the powers prevailed were not sufficient for Police to take proactive measures and the Army, Navy and Air Force could not take part actively in the operations.

    The President said that this Islamic extremist group carried out this attack at a least expected moment under the guidance, instructions, and leadership of a foreign terrorist organisation to cause appalling loss of human lives.

    Our security services received reports about this terrorist movement since 2015. It was observed that they were receiving training and certain guidance from foreign terrorist organisations. Our security services were monitoring them and investigating them. However, our security services did not have enough evidence to start legal actions against them or clear information to be produced to courts, he said.

    President Sirisena said he suspects that the terrorists, perhaps hastened the planned attack, because of the major campaign he launched against illicit drugs. “There is a nexus between international terrorism and international drug trade. Furthermore, I got staunch support for anti-drugs campaign from His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who joined us at Anti-Drug Walks. Perhaps the terrorist hastened the attacks on churches for these reasons”.

    A Gazette Notification for proscribing the Islamic militant groups responsible for terror attacks was issued last week. As this is a new proclamation, it would not lapse when the emergency is lifted.

    The action initiated by the Attorney General to investigate into the role of former Defence Secretary, IGP and other top officials will reveal the persons responsible, and it would exonerate the President, who was blamed unreasonably.

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