Further allegations that authorities failed to act despite receiving prior information regarding the violent extremism of Zahran Hashim were made this week before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday terror attacks. The PSC was also told that intelligence pertaining to preparations by Zahran and his associates to launch an attack was not [...]


Flood of information on Zahran but somewhere there was a dam

Authorities failed to act on regular intelligence they provided, witnesses tell PSC

Kattankudy Police OIC Nishantha Kasthuriarachchi testifying before the PSC. Pix by Sameera Weerasekera and Ishanka Sunimal

Further allegations that authorities failed to act despite receiving prior information regarding the violent extremism of Zahran Hashim were made this week before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

The PSC was also told that intelligence pertaining to preparations by Zahran and his associates to launch an attack was not shared by senior police officers with the Kattankudy Police, though Kattankudy functioned as the base of operations for Zahran’s National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ).

Kattankudy Police Officer-in-Charge Inspector Nishantha Kasthuriarachchi and former OIC Chief Inspector Ariyabandu Wedagedara were among those who gave evidence this week. Representatives of several Muslim groups also testified. They included K R M Sahlan, Secretary of Al Haj Abdul Jawadh Alim Waliyyullah Trust, Abdul Razeek, General Secretary of Ceylon Thowheed Jamaath (CTJ) and A K Hisham, President of Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamaath (SLTJ).

Former Kattankudy OIC Ariyabandu Wedagedara makes a point

Following are highlights of the testimonies:

Kattankudy Police OIC Nishantha Kasthuriarachchi:

“I took over as OIC of the Kattankudy Police on August 1, 2017. By that time, 13 persons belonging to Zahran’s group had been arrested and were in remand over the March 10, 2017 clash between the NTJ and Sufi Muslims. Zahran, his brother Rilwan and another individual known as ‘Army Mohideen’ had fled the area. After I took over as OIC, Kattankudy remained an extremely peaceful place up until the Easter Sunday attacks. However, I am aware that when Zahran was active in Kattankudy, there were conflicts between his group and others every Friday after prayers.

About a year after being in remand custody, all the 13 suspects were released on bail. They stayed in Kattankudy thereafter. This included Zahran’s father and one of his other brothers. They had to sign at the Kattankudy Police station on the last day of each month. All of them did so up until the Easter Sunday attacks. Of the 13 who were arrested and released on bail, Zahran’s father and brother were later killed at the NTJ safe house in Sainthamaruthu. All the other suspects are now under arrest in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks.

A K Hisham, SLTJ President testifies

We took steps to track down Zahran, but he had fled Kattankudy.

I was not alerted by my senior officers on any intelligence reports regarding Zahran and his group making preparations to launch a terrorist attack.

On the night of April 17, I received a complaint from a landowner that a motorbike seemed to have caught fire there. The land is located in an isolated area. I went to the location and we were able determine that the motorbike had been blown up. We are yet to receive the Government Analyst’s report on the type of explosives used in the incident.”

Former Kattankudy OIC Ariyabandu Wedagedara:

“I was the OIC of the Kattankudy Police from August 1, 2014 to July 28, 2017. From the time I took over as OIC, complaints were received regularly against Zahran and his group NTJ.

Almost all the complaints were about Zahran and his group criticising and insulting other Muslim sects at public meetings, using loudspeakers. This had provoked those who had been insulted to throw rocks at the meeting.

Abdul Razeek, CTJ General Secretary

The NTJ was a relatively new group and all other Muslim groups were opposed to it. This was the main issue facing us. At the time, we did not receive any complaints about Zahran being engaged in violent extremism.

I stopped four of Zahran’s meetings after obtaining court orders against them when I was OIC. However, Zahran and his group would complain about their human rights being violated when this was done. Even the courts questioned police as to why we were trying to prevent these meetings as it was a matter of religious freedom.

I went to the scene of the clash between NTJ and Sufi Muslims on March 10, 2017. I saw Zahran there, but we were unable to arrest him. About 100-150 people were involved and it was difficult for us to identify the miscreants. I recognised Zahran because he was known to police. We identified some of the other suspects only later through CCTV footage.

We arrested 13 suspects over the incident. We obtained arrest warrants for Zahran, his brother Rilwan and Army Mohideen, but they absconded. Army Mohideen was also a prominent figure in the area and he was often involved in clashes between supporters of rival political parties. He was with Eastern Provincial Council Member Sibly Farook.

Moulavi K.R.M. Sahlan, Secretary of Al Haj Abdul Jawadh Alim Waliyyullah Trust

I am aware that Army Mohideen was arrested by police in Kalkudah following the Easter Sunday attacks. He is now in the custody of the CID.

Moulavi K R M Sahlan, Secretary
of Al Haj Abdul Jawadh Alim Waliyyullah Trust:

We are traditional Muslims and are followers of Sufi Islam. Zahran insulted Sufi Muslims, calling them infidels. He said we were not Muslims. He published a monthly magazine called ‘Thowheed,’ from 2013. He published about 10-13 issues of this magazine. He used that to insult us. He claimed that partaking meals given by us as alms was akin to eating pork.

Between 2013 and 2014, we lodged 11 complaints at the Kattankudy Police against Zahran. Police even filed a case against him at the Batticaloa Magistrate’s Court. Yet, he continued to insult us. We even complained to the Eastern Province Army Commander Major General Lal Perera in 2015. He summoned Zahran and warned him not to engage in such acts, but he continued regardless.

During the 2015 general elections, Zahran got candidates contesting from Kattankudy to sign an agreement in return for his support. This agreement specifically demanded that candidates would not provide nor obtain any support from Sufis.

In 2016, Zahran also spoke out against Catholics. He distributed leaflets calling on people not to celebrate Christmas.

In public meetings held at the Hizbullah Cultural Hall on 12.09.2016, 17.02.2017 and 02.03.2017, he spoke out in support of ISIS. He said that in Islam, there was no room for patriotism for one’s country and that raising the national flag went against the Islamic State. He also said non-Muslims should be killed.

We submitted a written complaint to the President’s Office regarding Zahran’s speeches on March 27, 2017. We also handed over CDs containing three of his speeches, including speeches where he said non-Muslims should be killed. The same complaint was also sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, the offices of then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka, State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene, the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General’s Department.

We received responses from the PM’s office and the AG’s Department, acknowledging our complaints and stating that the matter would be looked into. We did not get a response from the others.

Abdul Razeek, CTJ General Secretary:

“I was formerly with the SLTJ before we set up the CTJ in September, 2018 after falling out with them over administrative and religious issues. We now have 63 branches island-wide.

I reject statements made by (former Eastern Province Governor) Azath Salley that I supported ISIS. We totally reject ISIS. As far back as 2014, I publicly stated that ISIS were not Muslims.

I started preaching Islam when I was still doing my A/Levels. I did not study at a madrassa and do not have a Moulavi certificate.

Jihad can only be waged by an army of an Islamic country. We have stated before that Jihad cannot be waged by others who carry arms.

I have never met Zahran. We knew of him through social media. He was opposed to us. He even made speeches saying that we were the ones who should be killed first because we were against his views on Jihad.

Mohammadu Hasthun (Katuwapitiya suicide bomber) came to meet us in 2015 with his girlfriend Sara Pulasthini (who died at Sainthamaruthu NTJ safe house). This was when I was Secretary of SLTJ. Sara, who was Hindu, wanted to convert to Islam. Both of them were over 18 at the time and so we arranged for her to embrace Islam. However, we could not offer them accommodation as they weren’t even married then. Sara’s mother wanted to take her home. So, on August 5, 2015, we took them to the Maligawatte Police Station to resolve the issue. But Sara came back to us in September, 2015 and said she wanted to marry Hasthun as her mother was not letting her practise Islam. They married thereafter. However, in December, she made a complaint to Kalmunai Police saying she wanted to divorce Hashthun and also sent us a letter saying she was giving up Islam and severing any connection with our organisation.

We gave information about Zahran in 2016 to the TID. We gave a CD containing his speeches to them.

A K Hisham, SLTJ President:

“An impression has been created that Zahran was a member of the SLTJ before breaking away to form NTJ. This is 100 percent wrong. Zahran was never with the SLTJ. He formed the NTJ after he was expelled from an organisation called Darul Adhar. However, because his organisation, NTJ, had the word ‘Thowheed’, all the Thowheed groups have come under suspicion.

We were in contact with intelligence agencies. We provided information that Zahran was in the Kuliyapitiya area. We also managed to find Zahran’s brother’s phone number and gave it to Army Intelligence so that they could track him by tapping his phone.

About one and a half months before the April 21 attacks, one of our SLTJ members informed us that Zahran was travelling around in a Prado vehicle and holding clandestine meetings at Nintavur in Akkaraipattu. I gave this information to one of our contacts from Army Intelligence.

The CID and the TID also approached us for information on Zahran. In 2017, we gave them CDs containing inflammatory speeches Zahran made where he called for the establishment of an Islamic State in Sri Lanka and also the killing of non-Muslims.

The police could have at least distributed his photograph through police stations in the country. Even some people who rented out properties to Zahran did not know who he was. CCTV footage of even a small robbery is released to the media asking people to be vigilant regarding the suspects. Why couldn’t such a thing have been done about Zahran?

We are the ones who fought against extremism. We are the ones who supported the Government and its intelligence agencies. Yet, we are now branded as extremists.

We have no links with Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In 2013, we even published articles accusing him of setting Bodu Bala Sena against Muslims.

School textbooks advocated killing of ex-Muslims: Witness
Some Islamic school textbooks published in Sinhala and Tamil by the Educational Publications Department of the Ministry of Education stated that those who had left Islam should be killed, a witness told the PSC this week.Rishvin Ismath, who identified himself as an atheist, claimed he faced death threats from extremists after he left Islam in 2013. He said that the Sinhala language Islam school textbook for Grades 9 and 10, published in 1981 and the Tamil text book published from the 1980s to early 1990s had stated that those who left Islam should be killed. He produced copies of the text books before the PSC.The new edition of the Sinhala text book, published from 2015 to 2017 does not mention the death penalty but states that someone who leaves Islam is considered a “traitor”.

There is nothing in the Quran advocating the killing of someone who leaves Islam, Mr Ismath said. “When we have such teachings in our school textbooks, there is no need to bring ISIS ideology to Sri Lanka to create Zahrans,” he told the Committee.

Mr Ismath said failure of the State was to blame for the rise of Islamic terrorism. “If something like this can be added to school textbooks issued freely by the Government, you can just imagine what there might be in the syllabus of madrassas, which aren’t regulated,” he added.

The PSC comprises Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri (Chairperson), Ravi Karunanayake, Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Rauff Hakeem, Prof Ashu Marasinghe, Dr Nalinda Jayathissa, M A Sumanthiran and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka.


PSC to summon Prime Minister, ministers; President also likely witness
The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) investigating the Easter Sunday terror attacks is to issue summons to the Prime Minister, the State Minister of Defence and two former Law and Order ministers to appear before it as witnesses, a PSC member said.

He said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene, former Law and Order Ministers Sagala Rathnayaka and Ranjith Madduma Bandara would testify before the PSC in the coming days.

While the PSC has decided to exclude the media during testimony provided by serving military officers on issues pertaining to national security, no such restrictions will apply when politicians appear before the committee.

The PSC member, who declined to be named, said the PSC could also invite President Maithripala Sirisena to appear before the committee, as he is in charge of the Police Department in his capacity as the Law and Order Minister.

“Whether the President responds to the summons or not is up to him. But we plan on issuing summons. The President will likely be the final witness called to testify before the PSC,” the PSC member said.




Share This Post


Advertising Rates

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