Text of the speech delivered by M.M Zuhair PC, former Member of Parliament and ambassador, at the felicitation ceremony for Ruwan Wijewardene MP, State Minister of Defence  on August 5 at the Excellency, Colombo 6.  The ceremony was organised by the Forum For National Unity (FFNU). Let me thank Mr. N.M. Ameen, President of the [...]

Sunday Times 2

Lanka’s Muslims and terrorism: the fact and the fiction


Text of the speech delivered by M.M Zuhair PC, former Member of Parliament and ambassador, at the felicitation ceremony for Ruwan Wijewardene MP, State Minister of Defence  on August 5 at the Excellency, Colombo 6.  The ceremony was organised by the Forum For National Unity (FFNU).

Let me thank Mr. N.M. Ameen, President of the Forum for inviting me to speak on this occasion of felicitating Hon. Ruwan Wijewardene MP, State Minister of Defence. Let us all, wish the Chief Guest a great & successful role in rebuilding our country.

Mr. Zuhair adddressing the gathering at the felicitation ceremony

The gathering here tonight is a very distinguished assembly of Muslims. (The presence of such a large and representative gathering at this event to felicitate our Chief Guest, is a clear message that,) as patriotic citizens of Sri Lanka, the support of the Muslims in the endeavours of the State Minister of Defence to build a peaceful and united Sri Lanka will be readily available.  

 It would be unduly presumptuous on my part to assume that the authorities may be unaware of the matters that would be referred to tonight, as they regularly update themselves. But our objective tonight is two- fold. Firstly to revisit some of the concerns of the Muslims and place them within the perspective of the country’s national interest. Secondly, the time has come to alert our own community on the need to exercise vigilance.   

Intelligence gathering is important. But gathering reliable and accurate information is more important. Avoiding misleading or dubious information placed by parties with vested interests is absolutely important. A wrong judgment in interpreting intelligence can cost lives. Indeed it has cost precious innocent lives. Let me refer to one of several instances.

You know quite well that less than a month ago, the report of the four-member Committee of Privy Council Members, appointed by the British government, to hold a public inquiry into Britain’s role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, was released. Headed by Sir John Chilcot, the Committee blamed, among others, the British Secret Intelligence Service, better known as M16 for presenting to the British government, the so called “Hot” intelligence, as described in the report, of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The war on Iraq was launched and you know the consequences! Over a million and a half innocent human lives were destroyed in Iraq, apart from several other devastating consequences to Iraq and humanity at large.

The point that we need to remember is that the Chilcot report exposes the dangers of subverting unreliable “intelligence” to achieve collateral objectives. The M16 report played a crucial role in obliging those who had already decided to invade Iraq.

President of the Forum for National Unity Al – Haj Ameen said very emphatically a while ago, that the Muslims of Sri Lanka have nothing to do with any terror outfit, whether ISIS or any other. That is a statement that will have the unanimous approval of the entire Muslim community of Sri Lanka. Nevertheless we are equally clear that every bit of terror information must be investigated thoroughly and dealt with firmly in a transparent manner and according to law. Zero tolerance is the name. Though there are legal limitations in the armed forces handling surveillance measures and investigations, the Police under the Ministry of Law & Order can step in and complete the process.

Recently there were reports published in sections of the media, alleging that two Keralites from South India had transited through Negombo to join the ISIS. The banner headline of this daily screamed “Colombo Hub For Islamic Fundamentalism”. When you analyse the text of this report, you will not find any material to support the mischievous headline that Colombo had become the hub for ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ or the allegation that the Kerala couple, a man and a woman, had anything to do with the ISIS or had joined the ISIS. Even the names of the two persons are not recognizable Muslim names! The published text quotes the origin of this story to an Indian intelligence source, but whose name or the name of the institution which the source represents was not disclosed.  

Interestingly that same daily wrote a very welcome editorial last Tuesday ( 2nd August 2016). Referring to the story of the Kerala couple, the editorial said, ( I quote)“Sadly, this has been nothing but a media spectacle made out of a bogus story…..This trend of exaggerated yellow journalism, with regard to terrorism, has gone a long distance and should not be allowed to continue……these reports of ill-sourced, ill-informed and down- right horrendous journalism should stop altogether.” (Unquote).A very welcome editorial indeed, coming as it does from the very daily which had carried the Kerala couple’s story. In addition to the Editor of this daily, there is some- one (in this gathering present amongst us tonight,) whom we should compliment, for this refreshing editorial! He has been named in the editorial itself! The daily is quoting this gentleman as having stated that the “media is going to town with unnecessary attention on things that never happened.” Indeed he had the authority to say what he said! He is none other than our Defence Secretary Mr. Karunasena Hettiarachchi. He deserves your appreciation- a round of applause please! 

Having looked into a few similar media reports published previously, I wish to underline the point that reports of this nature, without any credibility are being planted in the media from time to time by entities with an agenda of their own, even though our defence establishment had rejected such reports. Comprehensive investigation including interviewing those who initiate these allegations, in whichever part of the world they may be from, will be extremely valuable. 

Amongst such reports is one in which it was claimed that the Lashker e Taiba also known as LeT, had established a “facilitation center” in Sri Lanka. That was in 2009, exactly one month after the war ended. It is seven years since the war ended. We are yet to find such a centre. It is similar to the WMD story! Four years later in 2013, one Madhav Nalapat filed a Colombo datelined story in the Indian weekly ‘Sunday Guardian’ that Sri Lanka is fast becoming the new launching pad for Pakistan’s alleged terror out-fit Lashker e Taiba. It is three years since the Nalapat story got published and it is now known that there is no truth in the story. Colombo based Nalapat should have been questioned by the Sri Lankan authorities and his assistance sought to cross-check his claims, however ridiculous they may have been.

 In 2013, another story allegedly leaked to the media by an un-named foreign intelligence source said that LeT terrorists had planned to carry out an attack on South India from Jaffna! These were all blatant lies that got published in the media, but stories that people thought were true and injected false fears, in the hearts and minds of the people here, of possible terror attacks in Sri Lanka. That is terrible news for a country which had just come out of 30 years of war and suffering.

These and similar unfounded allegations of possible terror attacks by persons with Muslim identity have made the innocent Muslims here a suspect community! That is a very painful reflection on a community that stood against terrorism in this country. Our community suffered tremendously due to its uncompromising stand against LTTE terrorism. Those Tamil speaking Muslims, evicted by the LTTE from the North are still to be resettled in their original lands. The Defence Ministry is fully aware of the many Muslims, who sacrificed their precious lives, while serving in the armed forces, particularly, the Malay Muslims who served in the intelligence wing and got killed by the LTTE.    It is clear that some vested interests are using the Sri Lankan media to damage Sri Lanka’s relations with our neighbours, India and Pakistan. Regrettably, the false reports are attempts to muddy the integrity of a respected community of peaceful Muslims here!   I believe that none of these so called intelligence reports published in the media were ever shared officially with the Sri Lankan government, obviously because they were fabrications released for collateral purposes.    

The Bangladesh Home Minister told the BBC, recently that there is evidence of Israeli agents being behind the killings of innocent Hindu priests in West Bengal! It is well known that Zionists, the Neo-cons and the arms industry have agendas of their own. They have their agents throughout the world. What is relevant to us is that we need to keep watch not only on the possible ISIS recruits but equally on foreign agents who could be scouting for flash points of conflicts in the country.

Let us not forget that the 30 year war squeezed out billions of our wealth to keep the 700 odd arms factories in the West rolling. From January 2008, the critical year of the war I myself raised in my then capacity as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Iran, US $ 675 million in interest free money against oil purchases from Iran, acknowledged by the then government as having played a key role in funding arms purchases that the armed forces at war, were, in urgent need of. In financial terms the war has cost the country a great deal. These arms factories and those manufacturing security equipments will never be closed. The truth is they are having roaring business at our cost! They will continue to, only if they can engineer conflicts.

It is in this background that we urge the Hon. Minister to continue the vital task of monitoring all our borders for foreign agents, some of whom may be working for the arms industry, probably without the knowledge of their governments. They may enter Sri Lanka with dangerous agendas of their masters. I will give two terrible instances that occurred in our great neighbouring country, India.

One is the deadly 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, centered around Taj Hotel, also known as 26/11, India’s 9/11. The three day massacre left 160 dead, paralysed for months business in India’s largest city and rightfully earned world- wide condemnation. The man who confessed to the US authorities of planning the terror attack and scouting around the location was from Philadelphia in the US. His name is David Coleman Headley, who grew up under his American mother, who had been married for a short time to and later divorced by the Pakistani father, said to be a poet and diplomat. David Coleman Headley is the man who planned the Taj Hotel terrorist assault, having made seven undetected visits to India for the purpose! He was prosecuted in the US Courts and convicted for his role in India’s three day massacre and is now serving a 35 year prison sentence in the US.

The only point that I wish to urge by referring to the Mumbai massacre is that we need to alert our border control for possible external deadly agents of terror, if we are to avoid possible mayhem within our country. Vigilance irrespective of nationalities, ethnicities and faith must be enhanced. The cooperation of all sections of our people must be sought. I am not saying nor am I knowledgeable enough to say, that something is about to happen here. All I am saying is, it had happened in our region and can happen here. The compass for detection must be universal and not merely ethnic or religious oriented. We the Muslims of Sri Lanka must cooperate with the authorities by playing a more pro-active role. The mechanism that needs to be established for such a role is a matter that the community should go into first and discuss with the authorities thereafter.

The next case I wish to refer to, is India’s 2008 Ahmedabad bombings, in which bombs had been planted in 21 locations in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. Several local TV channels said that they had received an email from a terror outfit called the “Indian Mujahideen” claiming responsibility for the blasts. What is relevant to us tonight is an Associated Press or AP report filed on 29th July 2008, according to which, the email in which the “Indian Mujahideen” had claimed responsibility for the explosions, which were to occur shortly, had been sent from the computer of an American national named Ken Haywood operating from Bombay. As far as I know there was total silence, thereafter on Ken Haywood’s role in dispatching the advance terror threat. His email predicting terror in Ahmedabad that night turned out to be frighteningly true, with 56 dead and over 200 injured! We are left wondering who is speaking for whom and whether the US guy is the global voice for the Indian Mujahideen! Ken Haywood is reportedly living a free man somewhere in the US! A very important case from the intelligence point of view but appears to have been mishandled!

We have seen similar claims purportedly from Al Qaeda, ISIS and other globally branded terror outfits appearing in the media, claiming responsibility for almost every act of terror, occurring in all corners of the globe!  Co-incidentally we also hear reports predicting terror attacks, mostly quoting unnamed intelligence sources, as if some of them are acting hand in glove with terror outfits.

Only intensive investigations by our authorities, wherever Sri Lanka is allegedly linked can reveal the true face of terrorism! Our intelligence personnel and investigators must be facilitated to travel to any part of the world to join the local investigators of cases in which Sri Lanka is allegedly linked. Let me, before I rap up, refer to one such recent incident, which Sri Lanka failed to investigate.

In December last year a 40 year old Israeli arrived at the Bandaranayake International Airport on a fake Iranian passport. Why an Israeli on a fake Iranian passport? That would be the relevant question any one will raise! He also had an Israeli passport with his correct picture but with a different name, kept concealed in his baggage. Why did he come prepared to masquerade as an Iranian while in Sri Lanka unless he had some dangerous mission here and perhaps to leave on a different identity! He had arrived from Mumbai and was detected by the Immigration at Katunayake while attempting to enter Sri Lanka on the forged Iranian passport. The man had committed offences falling under several limbs of Section 45 of the Immigrants and Emigrants Act. He should have been produced before a Magistrate as the Immigration officials do in such cases. The offences carry a minimum sentence of one year to five years in prison and to fines in addition! The guy should have been questioned by the intelligence authorities and the CID unit of the police which works on a 24hour 365 day operation at the airport. They ought to have elicited valuable information. The man was allowed to go back to Mumbai in the very next flight, without being dealt with for violating our laws!

The troubling question that I wish to raise is, assuming the Israeli man had been cleared on arrival and if he had either himself or contracted for dollars a narcotic addict, to leave some explosive packages near some Temples here and left the Iranian passport close to the sight of the planned explosions, similar to the 21 bombs planted by someone in Ahmedabad and similar to the explosives planted on 7th July 2013 at the world renowned Mahabodhi temple in Buddha Gaya, in Bihar, North India,  would that not be the beginning of anti-Muslim riots here ? It is a serious possibility. It has happened elsewhere. It is happening around the world. It is not such a difficult task to those with access to dollars and to explosives.  That is why we urge the authorities, all citizens and particularly the Muslims to be vigilant. Incidentally, the Explosives Act comes under the purview of the Defence Ministry. We need to be alert to all possibilities. We cannot afford to go home and forget our obligations by our country.  

I have taken a lot of your valuable time but do allow me to summarise the more essential points. Firstly the armed forces and the Police, to the extent the law permits should comprehensively investigate all reports relating to allegations of terrorism including those published in the media quoting unidentified sources. Secondly intelligence gathering must encompass not only possible ISIS or other terror infiltration but also cover foreign agents who may venture into the country for operations similar to the David Headleys and Ken Haywoods. Thirdly identify dubious intelligence reports planted by vested interests, possibly the agents of the arms industry. Fourthly enhance the need for the country in general and the Muslims in particular to be vigilant for terror related activities, without needlessly exciting fears. Fifthly, Muslims to explore possible areas of cooperation with the authorities to strengthen terror related intelligence gathering and investigations.

We thank the Chief Guest Hon. Ruwan Wijewardene, State Minister of Defence and all of you for your patient hearing and the Forum For National Unity Mr. Ameen and his team, for organizing this event.

Let me conclude by adding that the views expressed are my own and do not reflect or represent the office that I hold.   Thank you.

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.