As concerns over rising gun crimes grow, police said yesterday that the mobile phone records of suspects who allegedly shot at the Ven. Kobawaka Damminda Thera, the chief incumbent of the Kataragama Kirivehera Rajamaha Vihara, were being monitored to track their movements. A senior officer involved in the investigation told the Sunday Times that eight [...]


Bullets for a chief monk: Gun justice on the rise

Police on call trail to arrest suspects involved in the shooting of Kataragama Kirivehera chief incumbent

As concerns over rising gun crimes grow, police said yesterday that the mobile phone records of suspects who allegedly shot at the Ven. Kobawaka Damminda Thera, the chief incumbent of the Kataragama Kirivehera Rajamaha Vihara, were being monitored to track their movements.

Ven. Kobawaka Damminda Thera being rushed to hospital.

A senior officer involved in the investigation told the Sunday Times that eight police teams under the supervision of the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of Hambantota and Tangalle, had been deployed to arrest the main suspect Asela Lakshman Bandara, and others involved in the crime.

Police have already recorded statements from two persons of interest and more people are to be questioned, the senior officer said. He insisted that none of the suspects had managed to leave the country and that police were confident of making a breakthrough within the next several days, leading to the arrest of those involved.

Investigators believe that a dispute over the custodianship of the ‘Mahasen Devalaya’ within the Kirivehera Rajamaha Vihara premises had been the cause of the shooting. The main suspect, Asela Bandara, had functioned as the Chief ‘Kapu Mahaththaya’ of the Mahasen Devalaya until he was sacked some time ago. Mr Bandara’s family had worked at the Mahasen Devalaya for several decades. The dispute over its custodianship led to Mr. Bandara and his associates filing legal action against the Ven. Damminda Thera inthe Hambantota High Court. However, the court’s ruling went against Mr Bandara. Thereafter, Police said the chief monk began to receive threats.

On Tuesday (12), at around 10.30 pm, two gunmen who entered the temple premises had opened fire on the Ven. Damminda Thera while he was going to his resting place. The thera and another monk who was with him had suffered gunshot wounds. The assailants had then made their escape in a Honda Vezel jeep driven by a third individual. The jeep was later found abandoned.

Police said the assailants had used shotguns and several cartridge cases were found at the scene of the crime. When the Police raided the main suspect’s home situated about 1 1/2 kilometres away from the temple, they found one of the guns believed to have been used in the attack. It was recovered from a nearby shed used to store wood. Two kris knives, two swords and several rounds of ammunition were also recovered during a search of the suspect’s home, Police said.

Aside from the main suspect, it is understood that the police are also seeking to arrest his brother and brother-in-law.

The Ven. Damminda Thera, who underwent surgery at the Hambantota Hospital was later airlifted to a private hospital in Colombo. He is said to be gradually improving. The other injured monk has already been discharged after treatment.

The attack on the Kirivehera Chief Incumbent is the latest in a long line of high profile shooting incidents that have left many dead and injured during the past few months alone.

It also comes days after the killing of two local government politicians from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in separate incidents. On the night of June 8, two full-face-helmeted gunmen on a motorbike shot dead Donald Sampath, Deputy Chairman of the Karandeniya Pradeshiya Sabha, while he was travelling in a double cab at Uragasmanhandiya. Police said that while they were fleeing soon after the attack, they had lost balance and the motorbike had fallen on the road, resulting in one of the assailants suffering injuries.

This suspect, identified as 22-year-old Asela Ranasinghe, was taken into custody by the Uragasmanhandiya Police the following morning, while he was receiving treatment at the Uragasmanhandiya Hospital. Police said he had been the one who was riding the motorbike. The suspect had admitted himself to the hospital claiming that he had sustained the injuries in a road accident.

On Friday (15), Uragasmanhandiya Police arrested the alleged shooter in the attack. Police identified him as 28-year-old Mahagamage Dinesh Pradeep Jayasekara alias ‘Chooti’ of Wathugedara, Ambalangoda. He was arrested while hiding out in the house a relative at Kahawa in the Meetiyagoda Police Division. Both suspects worked closely with an underworld leader known as ‘Kosgoda Sujee,’ police said.

Chooti was one of the two men the police were looking for in connection with in another shooting which occurred at Induruwa in Kosgoda on April 4. In that incident, two gunmen on a motorbike shot and injured two persons, including a German national, in front of a hotel in the area.

Police Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told the Sunday Times that investigations conducted so far had revealed that Mr. Sampath’s killing had been motivated by a longstanding dispute.

Meanwhile, police are yet to arrest those who were directly linked to the killing of Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia Municipal Councilor Ranjan de Silva on May 24. Mr De Silva, father of Sri Lanka Cricketer Dhananjaya de Silva, was killed by three gunmen outside his home in Ratmalana on the night of May 24. Two others who were with him were also injured. Mr de Silva’s family blames an underworld drug dealer known as ‘Kudu Anju’ for the killing. While several of Anju’s known accomplices have been arrested, police have not directly linked them to the shooting itself. The inquiry was handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on June 2.

The very day, Mr de Silva was killed, a 53-year-old woman was killed and her 26-year-old son injured when they were shot by two gunmen on a motorbike at Hathwadunna in Nittambuwa.

On April 21, a 37-year-old businessman was killed and four others, including a pregnant woman, were injured when a gunman opened fire at a musical show near the Attanagalla Rajamaha Vihara. Police said a business dispute had led to the attack. One suspect was later arrested in connection with the incident.

Police at the Kataragama Kirivehera Rajamaha Vihara

On March 19, two gunmen on a motorbike rode abreast of a car on Messenger Street in the Armour Street area and opened fire on the occupants. The incident occurred in broad daylight in heavy traffic. The gunmen, however, escaped. The driver, identified as 42-year-old Anthony Raj was killed while his wife sustained injuries in the incident.

On March 8, two gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed one person and injured two others at Hettiawatta in Kotahena. The deceased was a 29-year-old area resident. The shooting had allegedly been connected to a ransom incident, police said at the time.

The same day (8), Western Provincial Councilor Amal Silva was injured after he was ambushed by several gunmen in Ratmalana.

On February 18, two gunmen broke into a house in the Balapatha area in Thalangama and opened fire on the couple who were inside. The 51-year-old husband was killed, while his 48-year-old wife was injured.

Another shooting incident occurred near the Hulftsdorp Courts Complex on February 16. A 39-year-old man was shot and killed by a gunman near the courts. The alleged gunman, who was caught by bystanders, also subsequently died in hospital from injuries sustained after being assaulted by them.

Additional Reporting
and pictures by
Janath De Silva


A senior retired police officer has charged that the police are being impeded from doing their work due to political interference that has time and again, come to the aid of underworld gangs; but the minister in charge of law and order has dismissed the claim, saying no such nexus exists under the present government.

Retired Senior Deputy Inspector General (SDIG) H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya told the Sunday Times that deterioration of the law and order situation was primarily due to political interference that was obstructing the police from carrying out their duties. Many key matters involving the police, such as transfers, disciplinary inquiries and other actions were subject to political interference, he added.

Mr Kotakadeniya said that one could observe how political interference worked by looking at the crime rates in certain areas. “In some areas, where capable officers haven’t been appointed as Officers in Charge (OICs) of police stations or other senior levels due to political interference, there were high levels of crime. On the contrary, crime rates are low in areas where efficient officers are put in charge,” the retired officer said.

He claimed the supposedly independent National Police Commission was also not taking enough action to prevent such interference in police affairs because members of the commission themselves are subject to such interference.

“It has now come to a point where the Special Task Force (STF) has become the only effective arm to combat crime. But the STF was an elite unit formed to combat the LTTE. Does it mean that the underworld has now become as strong as the LTTE?” he queried.

Mr Kotakadeniya also said that not enough action had been taken to recover illegal firearms from society. The menace of illegal firearms was not new, he said, pointing out that during the 1988-89 insurgency, the Defence Ministry issued firearms to various parties without maintaining a proper register, resulting in many weapons being freely available to various criminal gangs. In the current, post-war scenario, the problem has become worse with many military deserters also possessing sophisticated firearms that are being used in many violent crimes, he added.

Meanwhile, Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara said the police were indeed capable of maintaining law and order and there was nothing wrong in giving more responsibility to a unit like the STF to crack down on drugs and underworld crime.

He said the underworld was not a recent creation and had been around for decades, along with illegal firearms. The Government, however, was determined to take action against them.

The Minister also scoffed at claims that political interference was preventing action being taken against criminal gangs. “It was during the previous regime that the underworld walked hand in hand with politicians. There is no such thing now, and I have never come across a situation where any politician has intervened or attempted to intervene on behalf of such elements,” he added.

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