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Easter Sunday attacks PCoI – Former leaders passing the buck

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The Easter Sunday attackers posing for a picture with their leader Zahran in the middle

By Rienzie Wijetilleke
rienzietwij@gmail.com

 

Sri Lankans around the world remain bemused at revelations from the on-going investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) has so far seen a roll call of former leaders and high ranking officials from the previous regime providing any number of vague excuses and abdicating responsibility for their inaction.

The former President, who is now a member of the ruling party and was the Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief at the time, must provide better answers than simply saying he was not informed. There is growing evidence that in fact he was informed. The former President has also stated that the Prime Minister was not invited to the National Security Council meeting because he suspected the latter of leaking the contents of the briefings to the press. This highlights the complete shambles of the previous government’s handling of the security apparatus. There was no cohesion, no alignment; there were only conflicting political agendas and the people are left to pick the pieces of their disastrous ineptitude.

The death toll numbers in the hundreds, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are perhaps thousands affected. Every family that lost a loved one must still be suffering daily at not having them close when they go to bed at night or sit for a meal together. The dreams of so many young Sri Lankans were shattered, livelihoods vanished, and hearts were broken. There were multiple funerals per street in some areas of the country and the victims pain is only exacerbated by the new details emerging weekly from the PCoI sessions. They deserve real answers and tangible relief.

As per CNN, Indian Intelligence services passed on ‘unusually specific’ information in the weeks before the attack, gathered from an ISIS suspect arrested and interrogated on Indian soil. Sri Lankan officials were warned on 4 th April of possible attacks against Christian Churches and tourist spots; the same warnings were sent two days before the attack and two hours before the attack. The government did nothing, and this amounts to ‘willful negligence’.

The name Zahran Hashim was disclosed by a terror suspect and even appears on a memo dated April 11th signed by the Police DIG, stating that there was a possible threat from him and his organization, the NTJ. In fact, the police and intelligence services had been aware of the NTJ for over two years before the attacks.

Explosives had been uncovered in the Eastern Province and even linked to Islamic terrorist activities. In January 2019, in the North West of the country, in Wanathawilluwa near Puttalam, a group was arrested upon the detection of 100 kilos of explosives as well as other materials required for the manufacture of bombs. Hundreds of detonators, wire cords, rifles and ammunition as well as six 20 litre cans of Nitrate acid, which is banned in Sri Lanka, were also discovered. Why weren’t the country and its people put on high alert and warned of the dangers posed by religious fundamentalism?

The chemical Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP) is thought to have been used for the Easter Attacks. TATP is made from household ingredients such as nail polish remover and hydrogen peroxide. These items are supposed to be screened by police to prevent their purchase in large stocks. The operation to build the bombs was connected to the copper factory in Wellampitiya. We had read reports of militia groups operating with impunity in the Eastern Province. Some groups were vandalising religious monuments throughout the last few years. We know that radical Islam had taken hold of many parts of the Eastern Province. Radicalization and Arabization have been occurring in parts of the country, and what are the government proposals to prevent this from continuing? What are the implications of the spread of extremism for the question of devolution of power? Can the ordinary Sri Lankans trust local governments, given what has been brewing in the East?

Some of the barrels of explosive materials found near Puttalam had Indian markings on them. It should surprise no one that foreign influence played a key role in the radicalisation of the youth. Throughout the multi decade war against the LTTE, we remember how Western liberal democracies allowed ‘charity’ organisations to operate without sufficient controls, raising funds for terror activities in Sri Lanka. The President at that time, Mahinda Rajapaksa faced immense pressure from the international community to cease the onslaught against the LTTE. The President took decisive action at that time and deserves enormous credit for not succumbing to this pressure.

The Times of India (ToI) reported that Indian Intelligence had been studying the spread of Wahabism in Eastern Sri Lanka for some time. We have seen reporting of large charity donations emanating from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East and directly benefiting powerful politicians from the East. ToI also reported that the Eastern region of Sri Lanka could become an operational zone for terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the organisation responsible for the 2008 Mumbai Attacks. LeT’s own charity organisation; Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq was active in Tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 2004. Another suspicious charity by the name of Falah-i-Insaniyat had been operating in the Eastern Province in 2016. Indian Minister Kishan Reddy stated that this organisation had been banned by the UN but still operated online.

Sri Lanka also must manage the optics of this issue very carefully. Already there is a circus related to the arrest and subsequent release of the brother of a prominent MP who was linked to the suspected terrorists. That same MP is now apparently under arrest for misappropriating funds in a separate case. People are asking a very valid question as to whether these two arrests are related in any way. What about the Governor and state officials of the Eastern Province, who allowed a terrorist outfit to organise and establish itself under their watch; shouldn’t criminal charges be brought against these officials?

A Muslim human rights lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah, with alleged links to two of the suicide bombers, was arrested several months ago on terrorism charges. However Human Rights organisations including the usual suspects, Amnesty International, have claimed that he is being detained without credible evidence under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). These same rights organisations have been lobbying for the removal of the PTA and for reforms in Sri Lanka’s state intelligence services. What role have they played in creating the conditions for the Easter Attacks? Sri Lankans have traditionally been quite suspicious of non-governmental organisations due to their perceived sympathy and support for terrorist surrogates. However, Sri Lanka, as a responsible member of the international community, must act with a level of prudence as its image is at stake. Sri Lanka has always been a victim of terrorism, but the Western-driven narrative, derived from multinational extra-territorial organisations seems intent on painting Sri Lanka as the belligerent in most cases. In the case of the Easter attacks, Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans were victims of violent extremism and we should not allow that narrative to shift once again.

Multiple officials from the Sri Lankan Police, Armed forces and Intelligence services have confirmed that the information was available and it was communicated to the highest levels. However, the former President and the former Prime Minister are simply saying they did not receive the security briefs. They are blaming each other and the state apparatus that was under their stewardship. There are thousands of Sri Lankan eagerly awaiting the truth about what happened in April 2019 and they will not take kindly to any administration that drags their feet on matters of such urgency. The authorities must expedite the inquiries. Officials in the security and intelligence apparatus have a duty to protect the citizens of the country. Which officials failed in their duty to protect, how did this failure occur given the information that was available and why was this information not acted upon? I urge the present government to charge all those high ranking individuals involved during the time of the Easter Sunday Attacks with manslaughter.

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Opinion

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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