Serious lapses on the part of the seniormost officials of the Security and Intelligence establishment, along with failures by the political leadership, led to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, emphasises the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), appointed to investigate the attacks, in its final report of 274 pages. After a 5-month long investigation, the PSC finds [...]


President, Premier et al failed the people: PSC report

Damning indictment of a Govt.'s callous and wanton disregard for the safety and security of its people

Serious lapses on the part of the seniormost officials of the Security and Intelligence establishment, along with failures by the political leadership, led to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, emphasises the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), appointed to investigate the attacks, in its final report of 274 pages.

After a 5-month long investigation, the PSC finds a range of individuals to be culpable for the shocking lapses and failures that resulted in the deaths of 277 persons (including, 40 foreign nationals, 45 children and 8 suicide bombers) and injuries to 400 people, in the attacks.

The PSC held 24 sittings from May to October 2019, and heard evidence from 55 persons, including President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister (PM) Ranil Wickremesinghe, Government Ministers, politicians, defence officials and representatives of various civil society organisations.

Officials and agencies who have been named as being responsible are State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director, Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) Nilantha Jayawardena, then Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Hemasiri Fernando, then Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara, then Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) Sisira Mendis, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the Attorney General’s (AG) Department.

Among the political leadership identified as having failed in their duties, are President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene.

The Report notes that, following the attacks, evidence emerged that prior intelligence information was available regarding the impending attacks, but was not acted upon. It stresses that SIS Director Nilantha Jayawardena bears the “greatest responsibility” for this, for several reasons. It was the Director, SIS who first received intelligence information about an impending attack on April 4 this year, but that, there were delays from his end to share it with the relevant intelligence and security personnel.

The Report states that the Director SIS was called by name, by the then Secretary, to brief the Intelligence Coordination Meeting held on April 9, but failed to do so, saying he would send a written update on the intelligence received. It also notes the SIS’s failure to act on subsequent intelligence information received after the explosion on April 16 in Kattankudy, where a scooty was destroyed. Subsequent investigations revealed that this explosion was a dry run to test timers and detonators.

The Report asserts that failures on the part of the SIS are compounded by the fact that, on April 8, 2018, a full one year before the incident, SDIG Jayawardena had written to the IGP, requesting for the closure of investigations by others into (attack mastermind) Zahran Hashim, which resulted in the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) withdrawing from investigations and the SIS becoming the sole investigator into Zahran.

The Report further notes that, whilst the greatest responsibility remains with the Director SIS, others within the security and intelligence apparatus, such as the MoD Secretary, IGP, CNI and DMI failed in their responsibilities. “All were informed of the intelligence information, prior to the Easter Sunday attacks, but failed to take necessary steps to mitigate or prevent it.”

As for the political leadership, the Report observes that the political fallout from the Constitutional Crisis of October 2018 and the bitter fight between the President and PM, contributed to the decline of the security apparatus in the country.

It points out that key individuals who should have regularly attended meetings of the National Security Council (NSC), were excluded on the instructions of the President, following the crisis. Among those excluded were the PM, State Minister of Defence and the IGP. The Report states that the President failed on numerous occasions to give leadership, and also “actively undermined government and systems” including having ad hoc meetings of the NSC, and leaving out key individuals from those meetings.

The Report also finds that President Sirisena “deliberately misled” the PSC on two matters. The first instance was, when he told in his evidence, that he did not know intelligence information prior to attacks, but the Report notes media reports point to him being briefed on April 11, 2019 (10 days prior to the attack). The other was his claim that he could not return to the country from Singapore on April 21 itself, due to the unavailability of seats on flights from Singapore to Colombo. But the Report notes that this has been countered by evidence of ample seats being available on 3 flights operated by SriLankan Airlines, between Colombo and Singapore, on that day.

The PM and the State Minister of Defence have been blamed for remaining silent for over 6 months (October 2018 to April 2019) about them being left out of NSC meetings. The Report points out that the PM could have raised the matter in Cabinet and in Parliament, while the State Minister of Defence could have raised his exclusion in writing to the President and made a statement in Parliament. The Report also censures the PM for opting to obtain information relating to security developments from the then Minister of Law & Order, noting it is no substitute for his actual presence and participation of the NSC. “The PM opting to rely on a third party for information is no substitute and is unacceptable.”

The Report notes there was a significant lack of trust and coordination between the various Intelligence agencies and Law enforcement agencies, which resulted in inter and intra institutional failures. “Despite there being some instances where intelligence information was shared, this was not a consistent practice,” it observes, pointing out that this was evident in the delays from the AG’s Department to respond to files sent by the TID (on Zahran) in 2017 and 2018.

Based on testimony provided by the SIS Director and others, the Report remarks that intelligence information was received on the radicalisation and potential threats from extremist groups, since 2015. It notes that, while several complaints were made by various people over the years, regarding the growth of Islamic extremism and specifically, about Zahran, and the conduct of the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) in the Kattankudy area, the action taken was inadequate. It further points out that the testimony recorded, highlights increasing levels of Wahabism and Arabization in parts of the country, which contributed to the rise of violent Islamic extremism that led to the Easter Sunday attacks. “Evidence received by the PSC indicates that Arabization commenced and was fostered in Kattankudy by Hon. M.L.A.M. Hizbullah”.

The Report highlights that, the arrest of then TID Director Nalaka Silva, based on a complaint by Namal Kumara, over an alleged assassination attempt on the President, contributed to weakening the intelligence operations underway on Zahran and his associates.

The Report makes several recommendations that require urgent attention. These include essential reforms in the Security and Intelligence sector, establishment of an enhanced financial supervisory mechanism, controlling and monitoring the rise of religious extremism, reforming the AG’s Department, holding politicians/peoples’ representatives accountable and reforming the educational sector to counter growing extremism.

Measures that should be taken to put these recommendations into effect, are explained in detail.

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

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