Easter Attack and Its Conspiracies

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe | Published: 2:00 AM Dec 6 2021
Columns Easter Attack and Its Conspiracies

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

On 23 October 2021, spearheaded by a group of Sri Lankan expatriates and high-ranking Catholics priests, including His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith a webinar was held to educate Sri Lankans around the world about the status of the ongoing actions taken by the Government regarding the Easter Attack. Soon afterwards, State Intelligence Service’s chief Major General Suresh Sallay complained to the CID of certain accusations made against him at this webinar by Father Cyril Gamini. Duly, the CID summoned Father Cyril for a statement. 

Initially, Father Cyril requested a week to prepare for this statement. This was granted by the CID. However, when the requested time period elapsed, Father Cyril did appear before the CID with the necessary proof to substantiate the accusations he made against Major General Sallay. Instead, he sort protection from the Supreme Courts against possible arrest. This was an interesting development in itself. Did Father Cyril misspeak is the question. If he was confident of the accusations he made, then the reason he needed one week to substantiate the statement to the CID is in itself questionable. 

Grave Implications of Father Cyril’s Accusations 

The accusations Father Cyril makes is very serious. According to him, the National Thowheed Jama’at (NTJ) of which Zaharan Hashim was the leader was formed in year 2009. However, even as far back as years 2005-6 they had been active in preaching extremism and harassing traditional Muslims, especially the Sufi. He goes on to explain to his audience that repeated complaints made formally and in writing by the Sufi community to the Kathankudi Police, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa fell on deaf ears. He insinuates that then brigadier Suresh Sallay, as the Head of MID protected and funded the NTJ. His hypothetical question to his listeners was whether “someone had a need to use this group. Is that why this group was protected and funded? Why was the law was not exercised?” The seriousness of this kind of implication is many fold. First, this is grounds for national disharmony.

 Until the Aluthgama incident in 2014, Muslims in Sri Lanka had a harmonious relationship with both the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Even when the LTTE was terrorising Sinhala villagers, the Muslim community in the Northern Province were fairly confident of their place. Thus it came as a severe shock when the LTTE expelled the Muslims in 1990. Even so, the Muslims continued to enjoy good relations with the Tamils. Therefore, the accusations that the Ministry of Defence spearheaded a group to harass traditional Muslims and mar the image of Islam are grave. 

The NTJ ideology is deeply embarrassing for the other Muslim communities who insist that Islam is a religion of peace. Any attempt to tarnish Islam as violent or extreme is thus deeply offensive. To think then that such an effort was initiated or supported by the Government of the country itself would naturally disturb the ordinary Muslim citizen. The growing Muslim extremism is, however, a very visible fact. We can see a rapid change emerging from within the Muslim community. The sudden change in attire is a case in point. 

Two decades ago, very few Muslim girls wore a headscarf. Today, almost every woman is wearing one. This in itself is not a problem. The issue is in the attitude of those who now cover themselves with a burqa or a niqab. There is a perceptible hostility emanating from them. Muslim ladies in a normal headscarf for instance move about as any other citizen, often on their own or with one or two companions who may or may not even be Muslim, without being a hindrance to any other person. They make eye contact and converse easily with non-Muslims. 

Ladies in Burqa only move with similarly clad persons, usually in large groups and often in a manner that blocks the entire path disallowing any other person to get through and pass them as they slowly sway along. Their complete disregard for others is quite provocative. This overall change of behaviour is very disquieting for the other communities in Sri Lanka, including the traditional Muslims. Until the Easter Attack, Sri Lankans by large ignored this growing trend. 

However, in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Attack people on their own barred persons clad in burqa or niqab from public places. Instinctively, people linked NTJ’s extremism with the exclusivity projected by the burqa clad persons. This change of attitude and attire is alarming not only the non-Muslim communities but also the traditional Muslims. However, the timely measures needed to be taken by the Muslim community to address this behavior causing unease in both the Muslim and other communities gets derailed with Father Cyril’s accusations. If the NTJ was a Government plot, then the Muslim community would rightly feel that the need to redress the growing estrangement between the Muslims and other communities lies not with them. Instead, they would justifiably feel resentful of the Government for the divisions created. 

However, the burqa was linked with the NTJ ideology as it lined with the sharia laws that the NTJ promoted. Therefore, the ordinary citizen interpreted the burqa as a sign of support to the NTJ ideology. Even if one argues that the NTJ was a Government’s pet project, no one can deny the self imposed exclusivity and hostility emerging from within the Muslim community. The need to address this is vital and should not be distracted with conspiracy theories unless the accuser has concrete evidence to substantiate it as irrefutable fact.

 These accusations where Father Cyril directly links then brigadier Sallay as a protector and funder of an extremist group responsible for one of the heinous acts in Sri Lanka naturally hurts the reputation of the renowned -military intelligence officer. Brigadier Sallay played a pivotal role during the war against terrorism. In this context, an accusation as grave as the one Father Cyril makes need to be substantiated beyond any reasonable doubt. 

Can Father Cyril Substantiate His Accusations? 

It appears that the CID is very interested in Father Cyril’s statement. He has already been summoned three times to the CID. Each time, the process had taken hours to complete. Interestingly, each time Father Cyril was with the CID a group of catholic priests and Buddhist monks line outside in silent protest. During his last visit, a large banner with the message to the effect, ‘the harassment to the victim is condemned’ was held by this group. This is a strange reaction especially when the demand is to deliver justice to the victims of the Easter Attack. 

If Father Cyril had extraordinary information to the effect that the NTJ was a political plot or pet project of the military intelligence, then he has a duty to share that with the relevant authorities. The CID is asking him to substantiate his accusations against Major General Sallay. Father Cyril’s corporation comes only after securing an order from the Supreme Courts against a possible arrest. Clearly Father Cyril has interpreted this process as a form of intimidation. Whether Father Cyril was a victim of the Easter Attack is immaterial.

 His foremost duty is to furnish the authority with information he may possess of this ghastly crime. Certain allowances can be made to a victim, but this space does not include irresponsible statements or accusations. Instead of cooperating willingly with the authorities, he participates in webinars and air accusations against a particular individual and implicates a certain political party. He is however reluctant to share his findings and interpretations with the authorities. This bizarre behaviour places a huge question mark on his credibility. 

The Origins of a Conspiracy Theory

 Cardinal Ranjith in his opening remarks at this webinar recaps the events that took place since the Easter Attack. His Eminence outlined the outcome of both the Malalgoda Committee appointed by the then President Maithripala Sirisena and the Parliamentary Select Group spearheaded by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. As both were unsatisfactory, on his request, President Sirisena appointed the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) comprising of four judges and one secretary from the Ministry of Justice.

 After 14 months of interviewing various people, PCoI’s output was a 21 volume document along with audio and video evidence in the form of transcripts and support documents. Cardinal Ranjith explains that all these materials were handed over to the AG who was at the time Dappula de Livera. The AG met me few weeks after that and told that it’ll be a very difficult thing for them as they have to read through all these docs. So he has appointed a team of lawyers to study these docs etcetera. 

“He told me also that when he looked at it, he became convinced that there was a long drawn out conspiracy behind this attack. It could not have been done by a group of ragtag Muslim extremists who decided to get together and do something like this. This had a long history as it needed preparation. “First of all these bombers decided to commit suicide is itself something that requires a lot of preparation. These people knew how to assemble bombs and this is a special type of bomb that had assembled that was not available freely. 

These people received the material necessary to produce the bombs and the training necessary to do that. All of that required time. “So he thought this was a plot. A conspiracy well beyond the perpetrators themselves. It’s in this light that we have been waiting for the report to be implemented in full.” It is not the intention of this writer to question the integrity of the much respected Cardinal. At the same time, de Livera’s conclusion (as allegedly communicated to the Cardinal) based on an inquiry alone is strange. 

Results of an Inquiry Differ to an Investigation

 An inquiry is not an investigation. As such it lacks technical evidence and other material needed to establish the events in its entirety. As a mere inquiry, the PCoI only concentrated on individuals’ stand alone statements. These statements may have been strengthened with relevant documentations. This however is insufficient to establish the truth in its entirety. A thorough investigation needs facts to be collaborated, which was not done by the PCoI. Analysing the contents of this webinar, it appears that an effort has been made to connect dots to create a narrative. 

The stated objective is to seek justice to the Easter Attack victims. However, the manner in which these dots are connected where some of the dots have been dropped altogether implies a very different motive. Cardinal Ranjith is highly respected by all communities. The sincerity in His fight for justice is without question. However, His Eminence should be mindful not to allow others with ulterior motives from manipulating his fight for Easter Attack victims for their own gain and purposes. [email protected]

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe | Published: 2:00 AM Dec 6 2021

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