EASTER SUNDAY BOMB BLAST IN SRI LANKA Part 11

By Kamalika Pieris

Indian Intelligence Agency sent an alert on April 8, 2019, warning of a terror attack. Sunday Times of 21 July 2019 published the text of this alert.  The text said:

Sri Lanka based Zahran Hashmi (sic) of National Towheed Jamaat and his associates are planning to carry out a suicide terror attack in Sri Lanka shortly. They are planning to target some important churches. It is further learned that they have conducted reconnaissance of the Indian High Commission Sri Lanka and it is one of the targets for the planned attack. The following are the likely team members of the planned terror attack,   Zahran HashIm, Jal Al Quitha,    Rilwan,    Sajid, Shahid,   Milhan and others.

It has now emerged that five of the six names listed in the Indian alert were known to the Police months before the Indian alert came. The names had emerged when the police investigated the vandalizing of Buddha statues in Mawanella in December 2018.

On the 23rd Of December, the day before Christmas, 4 Buddha statues were disfigured in the night. When this was attempted a second time on December 26th the public caught one offender and handed him over to the police.  He was questioned and seven more were arrested on 27th and 28th December.  From these eight, the police were able to find out who was behind this. Two persons named Mohammad Sadik Abdul-haq and Mohammad ShaheedAbdul-haq,  known as Sajid and Saheed had carried out the Mawanella operation. Their leader was Saharan. They were planning to engage in further extremist actions. This was said by Retd Deputy IGP, Palitha SIriwardene in an interview with Chatura Alwis on the Talk with Chatura” programme   August 2019.

Kegalle police then informed IGP by letter dated 14.1.19 that this was now a matter for the CID. The CID arrived, investigated and subsequently reported to Mawanella Magistrate on March 27. 2019 that ‘the following were the leaders in the Buddha statue attack’. The names were Mohammadu Cassim Mohammadu Rilvan (NIC No: 90343264 V), Mohamed Ramiz Mohamed Sajid(NIC No: 922901414 V) and Gayathu Mohammadu Ahamed Milhan ((NIC No: 892003629 V). There were 20 other names in the report.  It is, therefore, clear that five of the six names given in the Indian alert were known to the CID weeks before the attacks.

State Intelligence Service (SIS)   had also received these names. On April 9, acting on the Indian warning, Director of the State Intelligence Service DIG Nilantha Jayawardena had sent the IGP a report. This report, a copy of which had been seen by the Sunday Times said, that the SIS had identified four persons from the six names listed by Indian intelligence. They were Zahran Hashim, Rilwan, Sajid and Milhan. The report said that these names had emerged after the Mawanella incident, where a group of Muslim extremists caused damage to Buddha statues there. (This Sunday Times essay cannot be accessed now on Google. It has been blocked)

Leading on from this, Retd Deputy IGP, Palitha SIriwardene, speaking on ‘Talk with Chatura” in August 2019 stated emphatically that there were not one but TWO instances when the Easter bomb explosion could have been averted. The first instance was in December 2018, when at Mawanella Buddha statues were damaged and defaced. SIriwardene has been in charge of Mawanella at the time.

Arrests had been made and investigations carried out, but the two key offenders, Sadik and Shahid had left Mawanella, avoiding arrest. Police could not find them. But IGP Pujitha Jayasundera had phoned Kegalle Police and told them that Azath Sally knew where the two offenders were and would hand them over to the police the next day. The police waited all day but Sally did not send the two offenders.  A phone call to Sally was not productive.

Sadik and Shahid were the masterminds in the statue attacks. If these two had been handed over, we would have interrogated them, found out who the rest were and taken them all in, said SIriwardene. Definitely we could have prevented the bomb blasts because we would have taken in all the persons who were going to carry out the blasts,” said SIriwardene. This then was the first missed opportunity to prevent the Easter bomb explosions.

A second opportunity of preventing the Easter bomb blasts presented itself soon after.  When the CID was investigating in Mawanella, a confession from the suspects sent them, on January 16, 2019, to Vanatha villu area of the Puttalam District. There, they found a terrorist operational base in a coconut estate Lactowatte, situated on the 8th Milepost, Karandipuval of Vanatha villu.

At this estate in Vanatha villu, the CID found a terrorist training camp with chemicals for making explosives and manuals on how to make the explosives. This was a huge training camp, said SIriwardene. They were making bombs e and training people there. The leaders were the same three,Saharan, Sadik and Shaheed.

On the Talk with Chatura show, SIriwardene read out from a list of items found. There were 210 kilos of nitric acid, 50 kilos of urea, and 99 detonators. There was enough to make 25 or more bombs. There were also empty cans of nitric acid, showing that they had already been used. This meant that bombs had already been prepared.  There was also a list of armaments that resembled those found in an army encampment. It was later established that the CID raid had thwarted many major plans devised by this group,

CID had sought a court order on January 30, 2019, to prevent Saharan from leaving the country. CID has told the court in a written submission that extremists were making bombs and training people at Vanatha villu. They had given names and addresses.

The CID had sent only a small team to Vanatha villu, said SIriwardene. But this team had clearly seen the gravity of the Vanatha villu camp. CID had informed the Army intelligence division, Navy intelligence division and the State Intelligence Service, (SIS) and officers from these three agencies had also come and inspected the place. Therefore neither Army, Navy nor SIS can say that they were not warned., said SIriwardene in his interview on ‘Talk with Chatura” If the police and security forces had taken action at that point, then the Easter bomb explosions would not have taken place said SIriwardene. That was the second missed opportunity.

M.R Latiff, Senior DIG and Commandant of the Special Task Force of the Police stated before the Parliament committee investigating the bomb explosions, If the police knew that attacks were planned, we could have ‘done a lot of work’. STF is capable of tracing individuals based on the information available. That is offensive action. We would have gone for them and they would have aborted their plans. I am in doubt as to why I was not informed,” he said.

We think that there was the political influence which stopped the CID from proceeding further, said SIriwardene.  No one apart from the four Vanatha villu lot was arrested before the bomb blast. If you look at the file on the Mawanella detection yon can see how much has not been done, he concluded.

There was a third opportunity. Supreme Court Justice Vijith Malalgoda , Chairman  of the special committee appointed by President Maitripala Sirisena to investigate the lapses leading to the Easter  bomb explosion,, told the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter attacks that State  Intelligence had received definite information on 20th April that there was going to be a hit the next day at 10.am.  (Derana 20.8.19 at 17.13)

Malalgoda announced that state intelligence had got the whole picture by the 18th of April.  He said, There was the bomb explosion in Kattankudy on the 16th,    the police complaint was made on 17th and by 6 pm on the 18th Intelligence had linked it all up. They had drawn up a list of names and all the names of the bombers were listed there he said. Malalgoda Commission had seen the list.

We now move to the next set of observations. These deal with the way investigations into Muslim extremism were successfully held back. Firstly, Kegalle police found when investigating the Buddha statue matter that there was international involvement. Mawanella seemed to be connected to a huge international destabilization movement” (vinasakaree).

Therefore, Superintendent of Police (Kegalle Division) wrote on December 28, 2018, to Director of the CID Shani Abeysekera, listing the incidents in Kegalle Division, and naming the seven suspects in custody.  This letter contained the names, addresses and all details of the persons arrested.

The statement said, According to investigations carried out it appears that an international organization is trying to create disharmony among different communities. Therefore, [we should] take the necessary steps to clarify from the International Police (Interpol) about the accuracy of the information.”

Abeysekera, replied one month later We are not in a position to obtain the support of the International Police (Interpol) as your message does not refer to a specific country, specific person and the name of the international conspiracy.” SIriwardene observed that it is precisely because they did not have the name and address of the organization, that they were asking Interpol. If they had known the name of the organization and its address, then they did not need to ask Interpol

Secondly, key offenders at Mawanella were helped to escape and were kept away from the police on two occasions. The first was at Mawanella itself. The name mentioned was Azath Sally. At Vanatha villu, too,  the  CID arrested four persons found on the estate, Abu Haniffa Mohamed Mufiz, 3rd Lane, Mannar Road, Puttalam; Amir Hamza Mohamed Hamaz, 1st Lane, Spill Road, Puttalam; Mohamed Nafiz Mohamed Nafid, 11th Cross Street, Mannar Road, Puttalam and Mohamed Nafiz Mohamed Naveeth, 11th Cross Street, Puttalam.

Two of these four were also were released. Due to political interference, it was thought, said Sunday Times.  Azath Sally had stated openly on a television programme that he got these two persons released because they were innocent. We had only started the inquiry when these two were released. How anyone could decide they were innocent, asked SIriwardene. They were released in the middle of the inquiry, where there was the opportunity to get more information and arrest more people.

Head of CID, Shani Abeysekera also said, later, we released them because we had no evidence against them. However, he stated that the two were asked to report to the CID every last Saturday of the month.    That does not indicate innocence.

Thirdly DIG Nalaka Silva had established a Research and Analysis Unit at the Terrorism Investigation Department in February 2017. It was to monitor Buddhist and Muslim extremist groups and LTTE revival attempts. Silva had appointed an officer specifically to keep track of Zahran. In 2018, due to the efforts of DIG Silva, TID received a vehicle fitted with hi-tech surveillance equipment from the Japanese Government. We even trained some officers to use it, said, officers.

However, DIG Silva was arrested within a few months of receiving the vehicle.  He was arrested on October   25. 2018 over an alleged assassination plot on several VIPs. CID then advised the TID not to use the surveillance vehicle. ‘We have not made use of the vehicle since then’. The arrest of DIG Silva also led to a ‘psychological setback’. Staff was called to give statements.

Fourthly, Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) had in June 2017 sought the AG’s approval to contain the threat of Muslim extremism.  TID said ‘We received a complaint from Abdul Jawad Ali Waliullah Trust on March 24, 2017, against Zahran and his group. We investigated the complaint and then referred it to the Attorney General’s Department. We wrote two letters to the Attorney General’s Department in 2017 and 2018, but we did not receive any response. The AGs Department responded on March 12, 2019. We were informed that our file should be prepared again within two months. While we were preparing the file, the Easter Attack took place.

At the Attorney Generals Department, the file on Muslim extremism had been with Deputy Solicitor General Azath Navavi. Navavi had just one junior officer, Senior State Counsel Malik Azeez? State Counsel Malik Aziz admitted that he had received a file on Zahran Hashim, in June 2017 and that he only took further action and reported back on May 21, 2019, a month after the Easter Sunday attacks.

Senior State Counsel Malik Aziz had sat on the file for nearly two years while Zahran made meticulous preparations for the operation, said, critics. He delayed the file so that the police could not ban the National Towhead Jamaath of Zahran Hashim. The Buddhist clergy lodged complaints with police headquarters. ‘Sinhale National Movement’ requested the Attorney General’s Department to conduct an inquiry against State Counsel Malik Aziz.  Ven. Magalkande Sudatta of the Sinhala Ravaya organization called for the immediate arrest of Senior State Counsel Aziz.

Lastly, there has been complicity at police stations. Justice Malalgoda said his Committee had noticed some glaring lapses. The intelligence warning of the attack at Kochchikade Church had been conveyed to the area police station, Foreshore Police Station, only after the attack. At Katana police station, the warning had been received on April 13 but the OIC pasted the message on his book only on April 20. In many police station entries had been changed and alterations made. The Malalgoda Commission had seen the alterations in the police records ‘with our own eyes’,  At Katana, according to their books 21 policemen had been detailed at Katana. But we found this was false and entered only after the attacks.

The intelligentsia is very angry about the Easter bomb explosion, which they rightly feel could have been avoided. Twelve fundamental rights petitions in relation to the Easter Sunday terror attacks were made to the Supreme Court. These were to be heard by a bench of seven judges. This was in response to the motions filed by the Attorney General, the Bar Association and several other parties seeking a fuller bench since the petitions were of public importance.  These petitioners are pleading for an order to prosecute those directly or indirectly responsible for the Easter attacks.

A lawyer who sustained injuries from the suicide bomb on Easter Sunday at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, yesterday filed a Fundamental Rights petition in the Supreme Court citing former Defence Ministry Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujith Jayasundara, State Intelligence Service head Nilantha Jayawardena and 40 others as respondents.

The petitioner stated that one or all 34 respondents could be prosecuted for the commission of or, abetting to the commission of, offenses under Sections 298, 299, 112, 113 of the Penal Code. The petitioner seeks to challenge the arbitrary, illegal, unlawful, discriminatory, unreasonable and mala fide actions or inactions of one or all of the respondents, President or State which have infringed the Fundamental Rights of the petitioner guaranteed under Article 11, 12(1), 14(1)(a), and 14 (1) of the Constitution. (Continued)

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