Baffling leniency

(Courtesy of The Island)

Government leaders were cock-a-hoop in Parliament, on Tuesday; they bragged that most of the terror suspects had been arrested and normalcy restored. Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan, as the saying goes. When the Easter Sunday terror strikes occurred, the government worthies promptly denied the responsibility for the security lapses which had led to them. The blame for the carnage was laid at the feet of the police chief and the Defence Secretary, who had to resign.

President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe thundered, in the House, promising to do all it took to wipe out National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) terrorism. They ought to realise that it is too early to bellow rhetoric or declare victory. They should bear in mind the IRA terrorists’ warning to British PM Margaret Thatcher; they said that they had to be lucky only once, but she had to be lucky always.

The government must stop basking in the reflected glory of the armed forces and ensure that dirty politics does not hamper the ongoing anti-terror operations.

It is mind-boggling why the police did not try to prevent nine out of ten suspects, arrested over the Easter Sunday bombings, from getting bail. For some unknown reason, the suspects had not been taken into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). They are no ordinary suspects, to begin with. Insan (or insane?) Seelawan, who joined NTJ leader Zaharan Hashim in carrying out suicide bomb attacks at Shangri-la Hotel, on 21 April, had handpicked them to work in his copper factory, which is believed to have been used for manufacturing bombs.

The police seldom allow suspects to be granted bail unless they are under pressure from their superiors or politicians to do so. They get tough with even those who run brothels, and have mastered the art of having suspects remanded for months on end. They even descend on little schoolgirls who steal a few coconuts or rupees, unable to bear the pangs of hunger, and haul them up before courts. But they chose to be lenient with a group of terror suspects!

Interestingly, no sooner had Seelawan’s workers been bailed out than it was reported that a person who tried to bribe the OIC of the Horowpothana Police Roshan Sanjeewa in a bid to secure the release of an NTJ suspect had been arrested. The police officer deserves public plaudits and a special reward for refusing to compromise himself. But, unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many others in uniform. One may recall that, in 2008, a Superintendent of Police moved an LTTE suicide cadre from Colombo to Katana, where the latter killed Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and several others.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe insists that the government could not take any action against several families, trained by the ISIS in Syria, upon their return to the country, because there is a lacuna in Sri Lanka’s laws. (Some legal experts have pooh-poohed his assertion.) How will the government explain why the police did not use the existing tough anti-terror laws in dealing with the copper factory workers? It will have its work cut out to convince the public that its anti-terror action plan is copper-bottomed.

That the police were remiss in their duties has become manifestly clear from the fact that the Attorney General lost no time in summoning them over the circumstances that led to the release of Seelawan’s workers on bail. Newly appointed Attorney General Dappula de Livera is an intrepid, efficient official whom the public can trust. It is hoped that he will live up to his reputation.

A probe must be conducted to find out why the police did not take action against the copper factory workers under the PTA.

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