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Ex-STF chief makes U-turn

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Commandant of the STF, Senior DIG (Retd.) M.R. Latheef earlier told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks that he heard about the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim only after the Easter Sunday attacks, but yesterday he admitted he had been aware of Zahran and the NTJ even before the attacks.

Earlier a Commissioner asked the witness if STF’s Kattankudy office had not bee aware of NTJ and Zahran before the Easter Sunday attacks.

SDIG Latheef said the STF intelligence agents were not geared to uncover intelligence information on national security. They had been established to work on intelligence provided by other agencies and how best to use such intelligence.

Chairman of the PCoI then asked the witness if STF intelligence officers had never reported on Zahran and the NTJ. Latheef said no intelligence information had been provided by STF agents.

Commissioners directed Latheef’s attention to a report sent by the STF intelligence officers to the Commanding Officer of the Kalawanchikudi STF camp on 24 March, 2018. This report referred to Zahran and the NTJ and Latheef acknowledged that the report referred to NTJ and Zahran.

Latheef was also shown STF intelligence reports and he admitted that those reports too had referred to Zahran and his activities.

“Did the Secretary of the Commission ask you to submit documents on the religious extremism that were available at STF?” Chairman of the Commission asked the witness.

“I was instructed,” SDIG Latheef said.

Commissioners: “Why didn’t you include STF reports on Zahran and the NTJ in the documents you submitted to the Commission?”

SDIG Latheef: “I don’t know if the documents you have were received by the STF headquarters. Can you please request a report on this from the STF headquarters? These three reports were sent to STF regional camps. It should be checked whether they were referred to the headquarters and it should be ascertained whether any officer at the headquarters had inquired into it.”

The Commissioners also questioned the witness on the transfer of five intelligence officers attached to the STF camp at Arugambay and Kalawanchikudi between February 2017 and October 2018. Latheef said he had to look at the relevant documents before answering the question.

The Commissioners then asked Latheef if his earlier statement to the PCoI, i.e. that he had never known about Zahran before 4 April, 2019, was true, Latheef said that he had been aware of NTJ through certain electronic and print media reports before the Easter Sunday bombing.

He had also been made aware of Zahran during discussions held at the Police headquarters and during discussions with other senior police officers, he said.

The Commission then questioned him whether it could have been possible for him to take action on Zahran using the report of the SIS, warning of a possible terror attack.

Latheef said he had taken steps. “For example, I beefed up security at the Indian High Commission as the information indicated that it could be a target of attackers.”

Considering SDIG Latheef’s evidence before the Commission, yesterday, the Commission observed that it was appropriate to give him the opportunity to appear before the Commission with the assistance of an Attorney-at-Law under Section 16 of the Commission Act and adjourned the hearing until 10 October.

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Majority of 300 luxury vehicles to be released

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… some shipped in without opening LCs, EU wants restrictions abolished

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The majority of the luxury vehicles imported by special permit holders in contravention of the import ban imposed by the government in view of precarious economic situation caused by corona first wave are likely to be released subject to penalties.

Well informed sources said that those vehicles shipped in without even opening LCs would be released. Among the violators were many government servants.

Sources said that vehicles brought in without opening LCs were likely to be confiscated.

“We have categorised over 300 vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and Audis into two groups. Customs are now in the process of evaluating individual cases,” a high ranking state official said.

The government announced a ban on vehicle imports to arrest the depletion of foreign reserves. Sources acknowledged that at the time the vehicles

arrived in Sri Lanka the second corona wave hadn’t erupted. The situation was far worse now and further deteriorating, they said, adding that the Customs were being inundated with requests for releasing vehicles on sympathetic grounds.

Controversy surrounds the failure on the part of the government to strictly implement the import ban in view of the sharp drop in state revenue due to the pandemic.

Recently, the EU demanded that Sri Lanka immediately lift import ban or face the consequences. The EU issued the warning in talks with government representatives. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena explained the circumstances that compelled the government to impose import restrictions. The EU sought an explanation as to when the ban would be lifted. The Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Gunawardena as having explained to the EU the challenges Sri Lanka economy was facing amidst the dwindling foreign currency reserve situation due to the significant reduction in remittances and tourism revenue induced by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The minister said that the import restrictions were being reviewed.

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Nearly 74,000 persons under home quarantine

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Close to 74,000 people belonging to 27,974 families had been placed under home quarantine, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said on Wednesday (25).

He said that the number of cases from the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda clusters had increased to 17,436 with 458 persons had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Two wards of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura were temporarily closed on Wednesday after two pregnant women admitted there tested COVID-19 positive.

The two women are from Atalugama, which has been declared an isolated area. During the last few days close to half of the COVID-19 patients detected in Colombo District are from Atalugama.

The two women have been sent to Neville Fernando Hospital, Malabe. The patients and staff in Wards 3 and 4 at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital are now under quarantine. Their family members too have been asked to undergone self-quarantine.

The Police had arrested 61 persons who had violated quarantine laws within the 24 hours that ended at 8 am yesterday, Police spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana said, adding that they had been arrested for not wearing masks or for not maintaining physical distancing. With those altogether 688 persons had been arrested for violating quarantine laws from October 30, he said.

Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said that apart from Welikada, the spread of COVID-19 had been controlled at other prisons. COVID-19 cases had been reported from six prisons, he added.

“We are conducting PCR tests and hope that the situation in Welikada too would be brought under control. Twenty four new cases were detected from prisons on November 24 and from October 04, we have identified 708 cases within the prison system.”

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Severity of impact of second wave on economy could be far worse than anticipated – CBSL

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The impact of the second wave of COVID-19 could be severer on the economic growth than previously anticipated, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara said yesterday (26).

Dr. Amarasekera said so responding to a query by The Island at a CBSL media briefing. The top official said that an assessment couldn’t be made yet as the second wave was continuing.

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