Coordination Key to Prevent Terror Attacks
Had the intelligence regarding the Easter Sunday attacks been shared with the Special Task Force (STF), at least the attacks that took place in Colombo could have been prevented, former Commandant of the STF, Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG), M.R. Latheef stated recently while testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) appointed to look into the Easter Sunday attacks took place on 21 April, 2019.
This is neither the first nor the only time a high-ranking official made a serious statement of this nature before the PCoI on the Easter Sunday attacks. During the past few months, many prominent figures – including politicians, high-ranking public officials and former and current heads of law-enforcement agencies – stated that the Easter Sunday attacks could have been prevented, had the authorities taken proper and prompt measures based on forewarning received from foreign and local intelligence services. Also, these types of statements raise serious concerns about the fact that authorities failed in the most unacceptable manner to prevent a tragedy that took the lives of many, despite not one, but several, warning of the likelihood of an attack.
However, the former IGP, on 28 September, told the PCoI on the Easter Sunday attacks that the former Commandant of the STF was informed of the possibility of a terror attack both in writing and over the phone. The former IGP also said that he had received Intelligence regarding the attack on 9 April, 2019, and had forwarded the information to four senior Police officers on the same day, adding that he believed that these senior officers would take appropriate action based on the information he provided.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that the spate of bombings that took place on the Easter Sunday last year is the most heinous terror attack Sri Lankans witnessed after the end of the three-decade-long war between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka. According to what has been revealed before the PCoI on the Easter Sunday attacks so far, even after the end of the war, law-enforcement agencies including intelligence agencies had been doing their best to ensure the country’s safety. However, after investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks began, many accused that intelligence services as well as certain high-ranking officials vested with power to take steps to ensure the national safety, were weakened by the rulers. Accusations were also levelled that due to the alleged weakening of authorities in question, the national security was severely jeopardized, resulting in the failure to act on the warnings of the terror attack on the Easter Sunday last year.
Also, many who testified at the PCoI on the Easter Sunday attacks before the former STF Commandant cited inadequate sharing of intelligence and coordination between State institutions as one of the main reasons that rendered authorities unable to avert the Easter Sunday attacks.This has been repeatedly emphasised by several high-ranking officials who testified before the PCoI on the Easter Sunday attacks, including former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara, against whom serious allegations were levelled in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks. In this context, the former STF Commandant’s statement that he did not receive specific information regarding intelligence received before the Easter Sunday attacks and that the STF was therefore not able to take any steps to prevent the attack, is not really surprising.
These contradictory statements show a serious lack of communication and sharing of information between law-enforcement agencies responsible for ensuring the national security. Also, according to those who testified before the PCoI on the Easter Sunday attacks so far, it is evident that the support of all relevant parties, especially politicians, was also not extended properly. These confusions, delays and lack of coordination and cooperation, cost a large number of people their lives. In addition to the importance of all relevant institutions working in collaboration, what the Easter Sunday attacks has taught us is that it is beyond being foolish to rely on merely spoken or even written accounts and reports of such issues, and that a proper mechanism is extremely essential to ensure that all relevant parties work together as one team. Even though we cannot change what happened on the Easter Sunday last year, we are more than capable of averting the recurrence of similar events in future.