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‘Exodus of officers from SIS after 2015 played significant role in its inability to prevent Easter attacks’

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of senior intelligence officers had left the service after 2015 and that had caused the inability of the service to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks, former acting Director of the SIS, retired ASP Parakrama Lankapura told the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks on Wednesday night.

Lankapura said that producing an experienced intelligence officer was as difficult and resource intensive as producing a diplomat and that losing senior officers affected the intelligence services.

The witness said that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had the ability act upon the foreign intelligence report on 20 April 2019, warning of a terrorist attack the following day and deploy its own officers in civvies.

Lankapura said that after learning that National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim and his associates could launch a terrorist attack, the SIS could have informed hotels and churches of it. He said that SIS had various divisions that had cultivated contacts in almost all institutions and through such divisions it could have warned the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and hotel owners.

“Institutions such as the Criminal Investigations Department, the Terrorism Investigation Division and the Directorate of Military Intelligence could have also been notified as soon as possible. This information could have been disseminated through the media. Never in our history have we waited for others to do such things. The SIS is capable of carrying out operations.”

Lankapura also said that the SIS should have informed all senior officers of the imminent attacks and if anyone could not be contacted, SIS officers should have gone to their homes and inform them.

The witness was then cross examined by President’s Counsel Shamil Perera, appearing for the Archbishop of Colombo. Lankapura was asked if the warning sent on 04 April 2019 about an imminent attack by a foreign agency was reliable. Lankapura said the SIS had maintained files on Zahran and several other suspects mentioned in the intelligence report. The SIS already knew that Zahran and his associates were extremists, he said.

“Given this, it is doubtful if then Director of the SIS, Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, who has years of experience, had sought advice from the then Chief of National Intelligence, Sisira Mendis on the intelligence information,” the witness said.

Jayawardena earlier said after receiving the report on 04 April 2019, he had asked Mendis for his advice.

Lankapura said that he had decided to retire at the age of 53 due to pressure from Jayawardena and two other officers had also resigned from the SIS for the same reason. He said that although he had worked as Jayawardena’s Personal Assistant, the latter had not shared intelligence information with him sufficiently.

Later, Attorney-at-Law Madu Jayathilake appearing for Jayawardena, cross- examined the witness.

 

Jayathilake:

“How many promotions have you received during your time at the Police?”

Witness:

“I received about four promotions.”

Jayathilake:

“Do you accept that the SIS sent only five intelligence reports on extremism to the relevant departments during the period from 2009 to 2015?”

Witness:

“I deny that. Intelligence reports are sent by the Director, and I was not the Director at that time.”

Jayathilake:

“You said that the intelligence information received about the Easter Sunday bombings could have been disseminated through the media. Did you take action to do so when the intelligence information received that there could be a bomb attack on the Temple of the Tooth Relic?”

Witness: “I don’t remember. I can make a statement only after studying the files.”

Jayathilake:

“Can you tell me of any instance where the SIS told media about an imminent attack?”

Witness:

“I can’t say off hand.”

Jayathilake then suggested that Lankapura had been continuously chastised by his superiors for his inefficiency. The witness denied this claim and said that Jayawardena had to appoint five people to do what he had done.

Jayathilake told Lankapura that his replacements had sent about 300 intelligence reports about Zahran and his associates within a year, the witness said that he was not aware of it.

Jayathilake:

“Did you know that the SIS had informed the relevant authorities that Zahran and his group were involved in extremist activities in Wanathawilluwa and Mawanella areas.”

Lankapura replied that he had no knowledge of what had happened since he left the SIS.

Jayathilake further asked the witness if he accepted that the SIS had established foreign relations with only five countries before 2015 and had established relations with 25 countries after Jayawardena became its Director. In reply, Lankapura said that he did not accept that.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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