A Case of Gross Negligence
By Buddhika Samaraweera
The people are well aware that former President, Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forced, Maithripala Sirisena, continuously refuses to accept the responsibility for not preventing the bombings that claimed nearly 260 innocent lives on Easter Sunday, 21 April, 2019.
The main reason he gives for this is that no one informed him about the foreign intelligence information received on 4 April, 2019 about the possibility of an attack which could be carried out by the National Thowheed Jama’at (NTJ) leader, Zaharan Hashim and his followers.
However, recent revelations before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings, have now raised some questions as to whether the former President was actually unaware of the possibility of an attack.
Raising this suspicion, it was, only recently, revealed before the Commission that a total of 14 telephone conversations had taken place between the then Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) Nilantha Jayawardena, the first to receive foreign intelligence information on a possible terrorist attack and one telephone number of former President’s official residence at Paget Road. These telephone conversations are also said to have taken place from 4 April, 2019, the date on which the SIS received foreign intelligence information on a possible terror attack, to 21 April, 2019, the date of Easter Sunday bombings.
Recently, the former SIS Director testified before the Commission and was cross-examined by President’s Counsel Shamil Perera, who is appearing for Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo.
Perera asked the witness if he, as the SIS Director had the opportunity to communicate with the President on a daily basis. In response, the witness said that despite such a possibility, he had contacted the former President by telephone only on 61 occasions from 1 December 2018 to 1 May, 2019.
However, according to telephone detail reports, 139 telephone calls have been exchanged between Jayawardena and the former President’s official residence on Paget Road between 1 January and 31 March, 2019 alone, Perera pointed out to the Commission.
The former President, also admitted before the Commission that he had instructed SDIG Jayawardena at the National Security Council (NSC) to personally inform him of any matter that could pose a problem to the National Security. He said that the former SIS Director had personally informed him about such matters on several occasions.
Affirming this further, former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando also said that he, as the Defence Secretary, had never informed the President about intelligence information during his tenure. He said that although it was usually the Defence Secretary who should do it, he had instructed SDIG Jayawardena to continue informing the President on such matters after learning that he (Jayawardena) was informing the President directly about intelligence information.
So, if Sirisena had been so keen on what could be a threat to National Security, and had instructed SDIG Jayawardena to personally inform him of such information, can it be believed that the former President was not informed of the information received from a prestigious foreign intelligence agency that the Zaharan-led group could carry out a suicide attack?
Irregularities during Sirisena tenure
The proceedings in any sector of any country are carried out as it has been for a long time. It clearly states through which institution, through which officers, and in what manner the relevant work should be done, whether in writing or orally. When considering the matter of making the President aware of certain intelligence information, according to most of the evidence presented before the Commission, it should have been done through the Defence Secretary.
But it is now clear that these tasks were not carried out properly during the tenure of Sirisena. They have often been caused by his personal views and are not decisions made collectively. Especially if the Director of SIS was doing the job that Defence Secretary should be doing, the former President should have informed him that it should not have happened in that way and handed it over to Defence Secretary. Also, be it the former President or any other official, they must realise that they are responsible for the consequences of allowing these processes to change based on their personal needs.
Meanwhile, Anura Maddegoda, PC, appearing for the former IGP Pujith Jayasundara, asked SDIG Jayawardena whether the foreign intelligence agency, which provided initial intelligence information on the possibility of an attack had given him any special message in the morning of 21 April, 2019.
SDIG Jayawardena, in response, said that the foreign intelligence agency had provided information that an attack was likely to take place between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m. on that day at around 8:27 a.m. He said that it was then referred to the then Defence Secretary Fernando at around 8:46 a.m. He further said that the first two bombs were detonated when he was informing Fernando of the intelligence information over the phone.
When Maddegoda, PC suggested that he (SDIG Jayawardena) had actually received the said message at 6:30 a.m., the witness denied it. Meanwhile, the Commission warned him about the manner in which he had answered the lawyers’ questions. Chairman of the Commission informed him to answer only the questions being asked without arguing and that, if not legal action would be taken.
A shocking revelation
Also, making a shocking revelation, an officer attached to the Terrorism Investigations Division (TID) who testified before the Commission said the Zaharan Hashim- led group had initially planned to carry out the bombings on Easter Sunday, with involvement of 20 suicide bombers targeting crowded places including hospitals.
According to him, a member of the Zaharan- led group, who is in custody, had said that they were planning to carry out a series of attacks in three stages after the initial attack on 21 April, 2019.
He also said that during the investigations into the bombings on Easter Sunday, TID was able to uncover information that by March 2019, there had been a conflict between Zaharan and Naufer Moulavi, who is believed to be the mentor of NTJ and Zaharan, and also the mastermind of Easter Sunday bombings.
The witness further said that Alawdeen Ahamed Muaad, who carried out the suicide bombing at St. Anthony’s church in Kochchikade and Abdul Latheef Jameel Mohamed, who carried out the attack at Tropical Inn lodge in Dehiwala, on 27 April, 2019 had been trying to resolve the conflict between Zaharan and Naufer Moulavi.
Testifying further, the TID officer went on to say “during the investigations it was also revealed that Muaad and Mohamed had arrived in a car near Mount Lavinia Railway Station and picked up another three members of the NTJ on a certain date. They had then gone to Zaharan’s safe house in Panadura to discuss the plan to resolve the conflict between Zaharan and Noufer Maulavi,”
He further said that Zaharan and suicide bomber of St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hastun had also been inside the safe house at that time of arrival of Muaad and Mohamed.
Responding to a question by an Additional Solicitor General (ASG) as to what had been discussed on the day, the witness said that the NTJ had had a Shura Council with 13 members and one of them, Milhan, had presented 19 allegations against Zaharan.
“Milhan had suggested that Zaharan be removed and Noufer Moulavi be appointed as the NTJ leader. During the discussion they had also decided to share their properties. However, Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahmed, who carried out the suicide bombing at Shangri- la Hotel in Colombo had opposed Milhan’s suggestion. He had also been a member of the NTJ Shura council and had said he did not give money to the NTJ, but to Zaharan. He had also suggested that Noufer Moulavi be given a house and a weapon,” the witness added.
He also said that Zaharan had planned for a retaliation again the Christchurch attack in New Zealand and the attacks in Syria. Zaharan has had plans to attack places such as hotels, casinos and churches where foreigners visited in large numbers, he said.
A Senior State Counsel (SSC) questioned the witness as to what was the time period in which Zaharan had planned to carry out the attack. In reply, he said the explosives made by Zaharan and his brother Rilwan Hashim could expire within 15 days. They were, therefore, of the opinion that the attack should be carried out within 15 days and the plan was made to carry out the attack and the decision to carry out the attack on 21 April, 2019 was reached at the NTJ safe house in Negombo, the witness said.
At that time, Muaad, the suicide bomber of the St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade has said that there was a church in Kochchikade near his house and that he would commit suicide there, he added.
According to the investigations carried out by the TID, Zaharan, had once summoned members of his group in the Malwana area and has obtained signatures. He has also asked them to choose whether to commit suicide or die in the war while sacrificing their lives for Jihad. Zaharan had not decided the date of attack until 24 March, 2019.
A member of the Commission then questioned the witness as to whether Zaharan, during the said discussion had made a statement that he would launch an attack outside Colombo. In response, he said “Zaharan has planned to visit Nuwara-Eliya to find the whereabouts of foreigners and to launch an attack, but they have left in fear,”
It was also revealed before the Commission that, two days before Easter Sunday bombings, a (147- second) telephone conversation had taken place between former Minister Kabir Hashim and Abdul Latheef Hakeem Mohamed, the brother of Abdul Latheef Jameel Mohamed, who detonated the suicide bomb at Tropical Inn lodge in Dehiwala.
This was revealed when Hashim testified before the Commission on an earlier date.
A Senior State Counsel (SSC) asked the witness whether he had received a call from one of the suicide bombers two days before the attack.
In response, he said, “I will explain this. I was summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in December last year, where I was told that I had received a 147-second phone call from a person named Hakeem two days before the Easter attacks. I said I did not remember. I was then informed that Hakeem was the brother of the person who detonated the bomb at Tropical Inn lodge in Dehiwala,” However, Hashim said that he did not remember receiving such a phone call.
Meanwhile, the Commission also drew his attention to the incident of several Buddha statues being vandalised at several places in the Mawanella area during the period from 23 to 26 December 2018.
He was questioned regarding the incident where one of his Coordinating Secretaries, Mohammad Tasleem was shot in early 2019. Tasleem had provided information to the operation, which discovered a stock of explosives in the Wanathawilluwa area.
In response, the witness said that he had introduced Tasleem to assist the CID in its investigation into the explosives found in the Wanathawilluwa area.
“He has a sound knowledge of the society and roads. Only the CID officers and I knew that Thasleem had assisted in this operation, but someone shot Thasleem after this Wanathawilluwa operation and I informed the Cabinet of Ministers about this. I also pointed out that it was a threat to my life as well,” he added.
According to him, former President Maithripala Sirisena had then informed Hashim that he would be invited to the National Security Council (NSC) one day. Former President said I could discuss all these matters at the NSC. However, I was not invited to the NSC, he explained.
Hashim further said that all the Muslim ministers resigned after the Easter Sunday bombings without supporting the No-Confidence Motion against then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, not in the hope of protecting him.
“At that time I was the Chairman of the United National Party. The Opposition brought a No-Confidence Motion in Parliament against Bathiudeen saying that he was connected to the bombings, but it seemed to be against the entire Government. At that time our Ministers said that we could not win this. Our own people told we would not be able to go to village if we voted in favour of Bathiudeen. I, then spoke to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Then we, Muslim ministers decided to resign from all the ministerial posts since Bathiudeen would have to resign as well. When Bathiudeen was just an MP, the Police could have carried out investigations easily,” he added.
Indicating another shortcoming during the last Government, former IGP Jayasundara said that although there were about 14,200 community Police units established with the aim of obtaining information on various crimes and suspicious individuals at the village level, the Police did not receive as much information as expected.
He was testifying before Commission of Inquiry on 15 October.
Chairman of the Commission questioned Jayasundara on the number of meetings held to discuss Islamist extremism, just like he convened senior Police officers to discuss drug raids on the instructions of the then President.
When Jayasundara replied that he could not recall the number of meetings, the Commission members questioned whether not a single meeting had been held to discuss Islamist extremism.
Former IGP, in reply, said, “I do not accept that. At that time we had set up community Police units and assigned officers to look into four matters. The main thing out of them was to ensure national security. We discussed the information received at the Grama Niladhari level,”
Meanwhile, the Commission asked the witness whether there was a need to set up community Police units to obtain information as the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had provided clear information on Islamist extremism. In reply, Jayasundara acknowledged that some priority had been given to seeking information relevant to former President Maithripala Sirisena’s drug eradication programme. He also said that the community Police units operating in the Kattankudy area had not received any information about the activities of Zaharan.