They were not at war on the battlefield but at prayer in the Temple of God, come to  celebrate the resurrection of their Lord Jesus Christ when tragedy struck on Easter Sunday morning, leaving more than 250 innocents dead. Many of them had observed Lent for forty days in steadfast faith and fast, sacrificing some [...]


Sunday Bloody Sunday

After Easter Sunday carnage that shocked the nation and the world, vital questions public demand that the government must answer

They were not at war on the battlefield but at prayer in the Temple of God, come to  celebrate the resurrection of their Lord Jesus Christ when tragedy struck on Easter Sunday morning, leaving more than 250 innocents dead.

Many of them had observed Lent for forty days in steadfast faith and fast, sacrificing some favourite food, drink or pursuit, had walked with Jesus up the Calvary sharing the cross he was forced to bear; and had eagerly awaited Easter to dawn to attend mass and then return home in peace and goodwill to all to partake of the traditional, celebratory Easter Sunday family lunch. Unbeknown to them all, it was to be the last Easter Sunday repast they would never feast upon.

As news came in of an explosion at the miracle St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo followed by another explosion at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo followed by another explosion in Zion church in Batticaloa — whilst the devotees were attending mass –followed by another explosion at Cinnamon Grand hotel followed by another explosion at Shangri-la hotel followed by another explosion at Kingsbury hotel, whilst the Easter Sunday brunch was being served, the nation was stunned to the core in dismay and disbelief. And one week later, on this Sunday morn, still remain shell shocked.

Not that the people are not familiar with terrorism. For twenty six years, from 1983 to 2009, they have lived under the shadow of the terrorist gun and bomb ever moment of their time. But during that dark period, when a bomb went off, the people knew who was behind it: The Tamil Tigers. The people knew their motive: Establishing Eelam. But not this time.

Today no one really knows who did it. True, the suicide bombers have been identified as member of an organisation founded in 2014 called the National Tawheed Jamaat, NTJ, but who is really behind it, who is the mastermind who sent his brainwashed pawns to blow themselves up in Jihad’s name and enter heaven where thirteen virgins await for each, no one really knows. Neither does anyone know for sure the motive. It may seem like an attack on Catholics as a revenge attack for a solitary catholic New Zealander attacking a Muslim mosque
recently but none can say for sure what the end game is.

The Sri Lankan psyche has been damaged with the fear of the unknown. They stare at faceless terror. And today the nation lies paralysed, its mind despondent and depressed and its thoughts dreading where the terrorist will strike next. And to achieve what? In the armoury of terrorism, the fear of the unknown, like ghosts at night, is one of the most potent tools.

And through the tears and through the grief in the aftermath of this horrendous national catastrophe which plunged the nation into mass mourning and shrouded it in the black pall of gloom, rise grave questions the Lankan public demands the government to provide answer .

For never in the field of Lanka’s terrorist history had so many warnings been given, where so many in authority had known but so few in power had been told seeking refuge in parroting the signature tune, “I didn’t know’.

THE WAIL OF GRIEF: A woman’s heart breaks in anguish as Easter carnage claims her loved ones.

Consider the merry-go-round of events that led to the carnage. It was almost as if the tragedy was destined to happen. Not because the fates willed it but because complacency coupled with criminal negligence caused it.

Indian intelligence warned their counterparts in Colombo not once, not twice but thrice. The first warning, it is said was given on April 4, the second the day before the attacks, the third hours before the attack. And it was thrice ignored. Indian intelligence was not a general warning. It was what is called ‘actionable intelligence. It did not merely state that there would be attacks but specifically stated that churches and the Indian High Commission would come under attack on Easter Sunday. It was based, as its reported, on the information provided to them by an ISIS suspect in Indian custody who gave investigators the name of a man he trained in Sri Lanka, who is associated with the local extremist group, the NTJ.

The name was Zharan Hashim, now identified as the suicide bomber who detonated his bomb at Shangri-la. Intelligence sources in India told CNN, “While we were investigating ISIS cases, during the interrogation of an accused, he disclosed the name of a man, Zahran Hashim, who is one of the suicide bombers and is associated with NTJ. The suspect said that he played a role in Hashim’s radicalization.”

The first inkling Lanka’s intelligence had was when they were so informed by the Indians on April 4. Subsequently the National Intelligence Chief whose department comes directly under the President in his capacity as the Minister of Defence, sent a letter of warning to the Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando alerting him to the danger the nation faced.

Now the farce starts.

The Defence Secretary Fernando, a former chairman of the Bank of Ceylon who had no experience in defence affairs was appointed by Sirisena only five months ago. Fernando does   not take it seriously and merely passes the letter to the Inspector General of Police. He does not think it fit to inform the Defence Minister, the President, nor the State Minister of Defence who is in the same building.

The Inspector General of Police passes it on to his DIGs. At least one DIG Priyalal Dassanyake takes the trouble to draft a letter of his own stating his letter dated April 11 is in reference to the letter dated April 9 he had received from the IGP.  The caption reads: Information of an alleged plan attack”. It says it’s in reference to a letter he had received from the IGP from the Defence Secretary by letter dated April 4.

In his letter he states that on pages 2 to 4 that intelligence has been received that NTJ headed by Mohammed Zharan is planning a suicide bomb attack. He appeals that attention should be paid to the intelligence report and that topmost security should be provided to VIPs and personnel under their command should be placed on high alert and that all officers should be made aware of the threat.

He addresses  the letter to the

  • Director ministerial security division,
  • Director judicial security division
  • Director retired presidential division iv ( meaning Chandrika Kumaratunga)
  • Director diplomatic division and  the
  • Director retired presidential division V (meaning Mahinda Rajapaksa)

Of course, he does not send it to the president’s security division since, as the letter originated from the defence ministry, he would have rightly thought the defence minister’s security division would have been placed on full alert and the President informed by his own defence secretary.

Sadly none of those directors brings it to the notice of the very VIPs they were charged to guard. The whole farce assumes a childish air, the sort played out at a kid’s birthday party of children passing the parcel as soon as they receive it to another, else they are landed with the hot potatoes on their lap when the music stops and has to leave the game. Here was the adult version. Pass the warning game to the next in rank and get rid of it as soon as possible before the tape ends.

As a result, no Minister, including the Prime Minister, or MP has come forward to state that he was informed by his security detail of the threat. No judicial officer has done so either. Neither has the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga done so either. Neither has any member of the diplomatic corp expressed possessing prior knowledge.

Funny isn’t it that normally the intended target is the first to be informed of the threat so proper precautions can be taken by all? But here no one was told of the threat, though the Directors of their security detail were all informed. And this was no mean intelligence. It identified the group that was planning the attack. It identified the name of the leader as Zharan. The letter containing the intelligence even identified the modus operandi of the attack: suicide bombers. It was, as the spy world calls it, actionable intelligence. The tragedy was that though the intelligence was there 17 days prior to the attack, no use was made of it, a clear example of gross complacency bordering on criminal negligence.

And as for Mahinda Rajapaksa who has called for the government to resign, said: “Despite the persecution that the intelligence services had been subject to, they did obtain prior intelligence relating to this attack and conveyed the information to certain quarters. But nothing happened thereafter. That warning had been sent to my security officers as well, but they did not keep me informed about the threat. If I had known that there was an imminent threat of this nature, I would have immediately informed His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and also curtailed my own movements.”

Perhaps he failed to realise that the government and the prime minister and even the president were in the same boat as he was in for they all claimed, even as Rajapaksa did that though their security details had been informed of the threat, they had not been informed. No one had bothered to even whisper in their ears.

The question is why the hush? Why didn’t the then Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando who resigned on Thursday when the President called him to do so, keep it a secret from the president who is the Minister of Defence and Law and Order? Why did he not tell even the State Minister of Defence? Why were they kept in the dark? As President Sirisena said on Friday, “both the IGP and the Defence Secretary came to give me bulath on Avurudu day. But they never spoke a word of it to me. I put the blame solely on them.”

But even if one were to give them the benefit of doubt as they hide beneath the blanket ‘we didn’t know’ concerning the intelligence warnings of specific attacks on churches by Indian intelligence services to their counterparts in Colombo, can President Sirisena be totally set free from his responsibilities as the Minister of Defence? And when he arrogated to himself the Ministry of Law and Order, did he bite more than could chew? For intelligence of this group’s existence had been in circulation for a long time and nothing had been done about it.

For the NTJ was formed in Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated town in eastern Sri Lanka, in 2014 when the Rajapaksa regime was in power. Its founder Zahran Hashim alias Abu Ubaida is believed to have been the suicide bomber who targeted Shangri-La Hotel with military grade explosives. A video released by Al Ghuraba Media featured the seven suicide bombers allegedly involved in the attacks. Except for Abu Ubaida, the others had their faces covered and the video had messages in Arabic and Tamil. A caption in the video read “O Crusaders, this bloody day (21-04) is our reward to you”.

Even as the president said in a statement issued on Tuesday, “the NTJ members had received training and guidance from foreign terrorist groups for years. But the security forces had been closely watching them. However, the security forces had not found enough evidence to arrest them.”

But even after this, the President claims this evil group could not be arrested for lack of evidence. Why ever not? Is there no Prevention of Terrorism Act in this country? Does the president implying that if a residue group of Tamil Tigers is presently receiving training and guidance from some foreign terrorist group, that they cannot be arrested, detained and questioned under the present laws of the land? And for that matter, why has the government which has banned the social media, WhatsApp, Viber, Instagram and Facebook, still not proscribed the NTJ?

It was revealed on Wednesday that the State intelligence agencies had known of its existence for a long time. It was claimed that they had gathered information about 160 National Thowheed Jamath members who had been trained by terrorists, but it had not been possible to arrest them as there had been no orders from higher authorities, even  though information about the terrorists had been conveyed to the Defence Ministry and the police. The information about the Islamic extremist group was elicited following a raid on a training facility of the terrorist group on a 75-acre coconut plantation in Wanatavilluwa, in January, it was reported.

The Prime Minister, in an interview this week with Britain’s Channel 4 admitted that ‘on this occasion solid information did come and the issue is why that information was not conveyed to all relevant parties.” When asked by the interviewer, but if you are not in charge of law and order, how are you the prime minister? Isn’t that the first job of a prime minister the security of the nation? Ranil’s reply as,’ Yes, and in the cabinet we are responsible for it but as you know law and order is a different minister.”

President Sirisena vowed on Tuesday night to shake up the security establishment and appoint new security forces heads within twenty four hours in a bid to ensure that there will be no more terror attacks or security lapses. Upto now it hasn’t happened. But when he gets down to it, perhaps it’s best he starts by firing the present Law and Order Minister and appointing a more experienced and competent person for the job than the one the nation presently pathetically has now.

Especially when Indian intelligence have issued a new warning that another NTJ team led by Jal al-Quital alias Rilwan Marzag could carry out more attacks. Noufar Moulavi, brother-in-law of Hashim, recently returned to Sri Lanka from Qatar and had taken charge of the group.  At least this time before another devastating attack rips the land, it’s best to have one more efficient at the helm at the Ministry of Law and Order.

This week the best epitaph that was writ on the tombstone of Easter Sunday’s carnage came from Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Whilst condemning the attack, whilst condoling with the families of the dead, he also expressed his bitter regret that the [progress towards a more enlightened democratic state has now been retarded. Human rights and freedoms are now once more imperiled, he warned. This was also an attack on the economy. And we are back to where we started in January 2015.

What the President, the Prime Minister, the Opposition leader and MPs on both sides of the House is that they are singularly and collectively to blame for Sunday’s massacre of the innocents. In their obsession in maintaining  power and gaining power, in their mad pursuit of increasing their perks and privileges, in their power struggles even flouting the constitution and bringing Parliament into contempt by their atrocious behaviour within the chamber, in the internecine warfare waged against the state, in their interest solely bent on themselves and not on the welfare of the people who elected them to power and Parliament they lost sight of that cardinal principle that ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’.

No wonder Lanka became a sitting duck for a handful of suicidal fanatics to do their worst with so much ease.

Harin Fernando kept father’s forewarning a cardinal secretDon’t shoot the messenger, pleads Minister: Why not? When he didn’t deliver the message

HARIN: Telecommunication Minister failed to communicate deadly warning

Heavy must hang the head that wears the crown of remorse’s thorns. And for Minister Harin Fernando it must still give him a splitting headache this morn as it would have given him all week long  for his failure to convey to his Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and to his leader the Prime Minister the ominous warning given to him by his father from his hospital bed ‘do not attend Easter Sunday mass for a CID officer has told me that a fanatical Muslim group will attack Catholic churches on Easter Sunday”

As he told a news conference on that black Easter Sunday eve after the event: “My father told me not to attend Easter mass because he had been told by an old CID friend of his that churches would be attacked on Sunday. He specifically mentioned St. Anthony’s church in Kochchikade. I said are you mad and left.”

Good for him. But had he not kept his father’s forewarnings of doom unto himself alone, he perhaps could have saved the lives of over three hundred people had he not kept his dad’s warnings a cardinal secret. Nay, swelled  by a sense of self importance, he considered himself to be the supreme arbiter of hat to do with the information received from his own father, he decided to dismiss it out of hand.

His Eminence, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was not amused by the failure of one his flock, a minister no less, to warn him — for whatever it was worth –intelligence of a possible attack on Catholic Churches. In fact, he was absolutely livid. The Cardinal on Monday castigated Harin Fernando in public on national television and said that had Harin told him that Saturday night of the warning, he would have ordered his churches to cancel Easter Sunday mass the following day.

Tormented by this cardinal rebuke, he rose in Parliament on Wednesday to defend his lack of judgment and even quoted scriptures for this purpose, then proceeded to quote from the Quran before returning to quote chapter and verse from the Bible.

He even went to the extent of belittling parent in Parliament and said “sometimes my father advises me not to travel to Colombo from Badulla or from Badulla to Colombo but I am not the sort of man who takes such advice. So when my father lying on a hospital bed with half of his leg amputated told me that a friend of his in the intelligence service field had told him that churches were going to be attacked the following Easter morning, I did not take any notice of it’.

What a pity. What a great tragedy. He did not think of asking his father the number of his CID friend and personally making inquiries from him as to status of the threat to churches or the trustworthiness of the source. No he just dismisses it out of hand. He gives it not a tosh.

Now he pleads to the Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith saying ‘Please don’t blame me. I have been made to feel like Judas. Please don’t criticise me.”

Don’t criticise? Perhaps the Archbishop who publicly said on Monday, “I would have been grateful if I had been informed of this information. I would have cancelled Sunday’s service if I had been informed,” privately feels Harin should be crucified for this grave lapse.

Alas, poor Harin who seems to think that he will not be man enough if he gives ear to his father’s advice may also have been, unbeknown to him, God’s own messenger to deliver the missive to save the innocents from the carnage that awaited them the following morn. He now says in Parliament, “Pease don’t shoot the messenger.”

Why ever not? He failed to deliver the message.


THE LAST FAREWELL: TV chef Shantha Mayadunne with her family posing for the selfie her daughter Nisanga, extreme right, who also perished in the blast just minutes after taking this picture and whatsApping it to her friends

Shantha and daughter’s last Easter breakfast

When well-known TV personality and famed chef Shantha Mayadunne walked into the Shangri-la with her husband and family to celebrate Easter Sunday with a spot of breakfast at the hotel’s Easter breakfast buffet, little did she know it will be the last meal she would have with her family. In fact, tragedy struck even before she could eat it.

Shantha Mayadunne was the first chef to have a live cooking show on television in Lanka on the ITV network. She was also the author of two cookery books Rasa Bojun and Rasa Bojun 2 published in 2001 and 2005 respectively. Having gained an advance diploma from the Wilton School of Cake Making and Decorating in Chicago and having over thirty years of experience in cooking techniques around the world  studying as she had done in studied in Australia, Singapore, Thailand, India, the United Kingdom, she also ran her own cookery school named the Shantha Mayadunne School of Cooking Art.

Her daughter Nisanga who was in her early thirties had studied at the University of London. Her distraught friend Radha Fonseka described her in the following terms: “Nilanga was a very popular girl in college. Besides the fact that she was bright and smart, her mother Shantha Mayadunne, a renowned chef, made her more popular in college. Her mother was well-respected and an inspirational chef for Sri Lankans. Destiny has taken away both of them. I am devastated.”

After the family had sat down at the table that fateful morn, Nisanga took a selfie of the family. She posted it to her friends with the caption: ‘Easter breakfast with the family’. Minutes after this photograph was taken her mother asked her to accompany her to the buffet table to serve their breakfast. A bearded man with a large backpack also joined the queue. And detonated the bomb killing Shantha and Nisanga and a great many others instantly. Now all that remains for the rest of the family who escaped unhurt are memories and a last photograph of the Easter breakfast they never ate.


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