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    GOVT., STAKEHOLDERS RESPONSIBLE FOR EASTER SUNDAY ATTACKS - PRESIDENT Featured

    April 27, 2019

    President Maithripala Sirisena in no uncertain terms emphasised that the Government and all its stakeholders should take the responsibility for the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks. President Sirisena also stressed that he too does not shirk his responsibility in that regard.

    Addressing a meeting with Heads of Print and Electronic Media yesterday at President’s House in Fort, the President said the Government should also take the responsibility for weakening the State Intelligence Service and Tri-Forces and putting higher rank intelligence officials behind bars.

    The President also said that former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and IGP Pujith Jayasundera had totally failed in their duties. He said that he ordered both of them to resign, adding that he no sooner expects the IGP to submit his resignation letter.

    He said that there would be a complete overhaul in the Intelligence Service and Security apparatus in the future, and that action would be taken against all officers who neglected their duties.“When we fought the war against the LTTE, only a few countries supported us while the majority of the international community identified it as a ‘radical movement’ siding with the Human Rights campaigners. Those Human Rights ‘uncles’ are nowhere to be found following the attacks. They too contributed to weaken the Intelligence Service and the Tri-Forces.

    “One main reason for the rift between the Government and me was the attempts to weaken the military and Intelligence Service. Former Bribery Commission Director General Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe’s resignation was following my speech when former Tri-Forces’ Commanders were summoned to court. I fought from within to protect them and prevent unnecessary arrests. Some intelligence officers left the country over the past years and some got appointments overseas. Intelligence Officer Suresh Sallay was an example,” he complained.

    Expressing his deep disappointment over the manner how the forewarning from India over a possible attack had been handled, the President said, “India had given the warning on April 4 and it contained a name list and many vital information as you are already aware. From April 4-12, no action had been taken except passing the letter to one another. The letter was passed to the Defence Secretary, the IGP and five DIGs. One of the DIGs had forwarded it to VIP Security Chief and others have not acted”.

    “Some accused me for not making an acting appointment for the Defence Minister when I went overseas, but there had been many instances where former Presidents had gone abroad without making such acting appointments. I left the country on April 16, 12 days after the receipt of the letter. Neither the Defence Secretary nor the IGP informed me. They met me on the Sinhala and Tamil New Year to offer a sheaf of betel leaves. They could have told me at least then. Had they called me when I was in India, I would have immediately returned. I am not saying these to absolve myself, but this was what happened,” he explained.

    The President, who was in Singapore at the time of the attacks, said he got to know of the attacks only through social media about an hour after the incident. “After the attacks, my attention was drawn to a letter circulating on Social Media. That was the letter sent by DIG Dasanayake to the VIP Chief. I too saw it for the first time on social media while in Singapore. Not even the President’s Security Chief or the Prime Minister’s Security Chief had been informed,” the President complained adding that it explains as to why the Prime Minister and Cabinet were also in the dark.

    “When the National Security Council met on April 22, I asked the assembly as to who would take the responsibility. Both the IGP and the Defence Secretary remained silent looking down. On Wednesday, when I summoned the IGP to ask him to resign, I asked again as to why he did not call and inform me. He admitted that it was a lapse on his part. Had it been any other country, both of them could have been in jail,” an irate President Sirisena said.

    Responding to a question by journalists on the statements that various political figures pressurized to release the suspects in connection with the incident of vandalizing Buddha Statues in Mawenella, the President said the investigative bodies would question anybody, irrespective of the office they hold or the political party they represent, if there are complaints or information.

    He however said that the DIG of the CID informed him that there had been no political pressure to release two of the six suspects arrested in connection with the incident in Mawanella. He said he informed the Cabinet Minister, who made the allegation, to be responsible for what he says in public.

    Responding to journalists’ questions as to whether the Government was aware of locals with ISIS links prior to the attacks, the President said that there was information about several individuals, but had not enough evidence to apprehend them or to confirm that they were attached to the ISIS.

    “For the last four years, these names came up at the National Security Council meetings. However, there were no revelations that they possessed weapons or bombs or planned attacks. They had been going out of the country frequently. We cannot remand anybody without proper evidence,” he added.

    Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, responding to questions, said that the Army Intelligence Unit was not aware of the forewarning letter until the incident happened.

    JOC to be set up

    Disna Mudalige

    A Joint Operations Command (JOC) will be set up shortly to operate round the clock to implement short and long term plans made to combat religious extremist outfits identified to have connections with the ISIS, President Maithripala Sirisena said.

    Addressing a meeting with Heads of the Print and Electronic Media at President’s House in Fort yesterday, the President assured that the activities of extremist groups would soon be thwarted and an atmosphere for the people to live in peace would be restored.

    Requesting the support of the public to achieve this goal, he said a circular would soon be issued to check every house in the country.

    “The State of Emergency allows us to do so. The accurate information on occupants in each and every house will be recorded,” he said.

    He said the National Security Council has already made short and long term plans to confront the extremist outfits, adding that the assistance of experts in foreign countries have also been sought. Observing that there are about 140 individuals linked to ISIS in Sri Lanka, he said military operations have begun to arrest them all. He said about 70 suspects have already been arrested. He made a special request from the people not to mistrust the entire Muslim community as terrorists.

    “Don’t have feelings of hate towards the Muslims in general because of the brutal acts by a few extremists.

    A young Moulavi who took part in the Multi-Religious meeting burst into tears. They all condemn the heinous attacks,” the President said.

    The President, observing that the drug business is closely linked to religious extremism, expressed his determination to double down and escalate the operations to curb drug menace.

    “The illicit drug business was one of the main income sources to the LTTE in the past. We arrested many foreigners at sea over the past three months for drug smuggling. Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith actively supported us in our efforts. The continuous drug raids might have hastened the attacks,” he remarked.

    “For the first time, we suffered an act of international terrorism. Prior to that we only heard about it in the media. There is a big difference between the LTTE and ISIS. We must deal with it wisely and patiently rejecting political opportunism. Some spoke in Parliament as heroes accusing us of failing to prevent the attacks. When the Pentagon was attacked not even the US could prevent it,” the President said.

    Responding to a question by a journalist, the President agreed to make the report of the three-member Presidential Committee appointed to probe the terror attacks public when he receives it, adding that it was due in two weeks.

    NTJ leader Zahran killed in hotel blast - MI

    Disna Mudalige

    National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) leader Mohamed Zahran died in the blast at the Shangri-La hotel, Military Intelligence (MI) Director, Brigadier Chula Kodithuwakku said.

    Giving a brief analysis on the current security situation and extremist Islamic religious groups in Sri Lanka, he said extremists in the National Thowheed Jamath and the JMI (Jamiyathul Millana Ibrahim Fi Sellani) carried out the Easter Sunday attacks.

    Speaking at the President’s Heads of Media meeting at President’s House in Fort yesterday, the Director said CCTV footage and pictures confirmed that Zahran had come to Shangri-La along with another terrorist for the bombing.

    “Our investigations revealed that he had died in the blast.We have sent the samples for DNA tests to prove it,” he said. He also identified four main factors that could have triggered the Sunday’s terrorist attacks.

    They are “aftershock of the collapse of ISIS, influence of foreign ISIS groups, the Christchurch attack in New Zealand and minor incidents within Sri Lanka which acted as provocations”.

    He said that Sri Lanka is included in the ISIS map which the ISIS claims as its territory.

    He said ISIS operations grew in Sri Lanka since 2015 with the killing of first Sri Lankan ISIS militant in Syria.

    He said the NTJ was started in 2011 and JMI was started in 2015.

    New laws to ban local groups with ISIS links

    New laws will be presented soon to ban the local extremists groups which have links with the ISIS, President Maithripala Sirisena said.

    Addressing a meeting with Heads of the Print and Electronic Media yesterday at President’s House in Fort, the President said the existing legal provisions were not sufficient to ban such religious extremist outfits.

    Responding to a question by a journalist as to why the National Thowheed Jamath was not banned in the country yet, the President said his attention was drawn to it the very next day after the attacks but the lack of legal provisions held him back.

    “Australia and Singapore introduced new Acts for that purpose.

    I got a copy of their legislation. I will hand them to the Attorney General today. Given the urgency, I also instructed a few legal experts close to me to draft the Bill soon. Then it can be directed to the AG to make the necessary changes. For now, we can use provisions under the State of Emergency to ban those organizations, but such a ban will cease to exist when the Emergency is lifted. But for the moment, we will do so while bringing in new legislation to permanently ban them,” he said.

    He said former Minister Dr.Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe drew the attention of Cabinet and Parliament two years ago that new laws are needed to combat ISIS, but his warnings fell on deaf ears. “Rajapakshe was ridiculed and sidelined,” he said. Responding to another question on confidential documents circulating fast on social media, the President said it would be discussed at the National Security Council meeting scheduled for yesterday.

    President has second thoughts on lifting social media blockade

    Disna Mudalige

    President Maithripala Sirisena said he has second thoughts on lifting the social media blockade, which was due yesterday, following false alarms and messages creating panic amongst the people.

    Addressing a meeting with Heads of the Print and Electronic Media yesterday at President’s House in Fort, the President said the normal life and work in Colombo was heavily disturbed because of the false messages circulated on Thursday of a possible bomb blast in Colombo.

    “Those who spread such false alarms will be traced and arrested under the provisions of the State of Emergency. This was the reason why we blocked several social media platforms,” he said.

    The President, observing that a team comprising the Heads of Social Media companies arrived in the country on Thursday night, said he would discuss with them to obtain information on the persons wanted by the local investigative bodies.

    “We want to make them agree to cooperate with the local IT specialists to share the information with us. Otherwise, we may even have to continue with the ban on Social Media,” he said.

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