Public Security Minister tells Parliament that Naufer Moulavi is the main culprit, but outgoing and outspoken AG disputes that claim While Sri Lanka investigations still incomplete, US Justice Dept. files case in LA court against three suspects Naufer identified by FBI as second Emir, but strong speculation as to who the first Emir is and [...]


Easter Sunday massacres: Grand conspiracy and questions as to who the mastermind is


  • Public Security Minister tells Parliament that Naufer Moulavi is the main culprit, but outgoing and outspoken AG disputes that claim
  • While Sri Lanka investigations still incomplete, US Justice Dept. files case in LA court against three suspects
  • Naufer identified by FBI as second Emir, but strong speculation as to who the first Emir is and the mystery may never be known
  • Third Covid spike rages; number afflicted may reach 4,000 a day, while Govt. ignores expert advice for total lockdown


The events behind the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks that left 268 innocent men, women, and children dead, are becoming curioser and curioser.

There is strong speculation that the real perpetrators behind the attacks, that shook the world, may not face punitive action. A complex turn of events is driving the issue beyond many facts that have transpired. That is with attempts to point the finger at unexpected quarters amidst concerns that the real culprits may go scot free. This is due to the complex turn of events that could be a bigger mystery than the gory massacres themselves.

The latest turn of events came after an official statement in Parliament on Wednesday by Public Security Minister, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera. This is what he said: “The Attorney General has made a statement that there were shortcomings in the extracts of the Police investigations over the Easter Sunday attacks. Though Moulavi Naufer was a key figure in the group and the leader, the AG has said that he could not be identified as the mastermind of the attack.

“Investigations are underway by the CID, the FBI from the United States, and the Australian Federal Police among other international teams. So far 704 persons have been arrested, 203 of them are in remand custody and 84 are held under detention orders. Another 244 are on bail, 168 released and 32 indicted. Moulavi Mohamed Naufer has been found to be the mastermind, according to our police investigations and US investigations. He is the person who brought the IS ideology to Sri Lanka in 2016 and directed Zaharan to imbibe in this ideology. Zaharan’s wife too has confirmed this.

“He also carried out IS training in Sri Lanka. His laptop and books confirm this. He supervised the training camps in Nuwara Eliya and Hambantota. He also gave in marriage his sister-in-law to Zaharan. They studied in the same Madrasa school. Naufer was Zaharan’s senior. He played a major role in the Darul Aadal organisation. The FBI too has confirmed that Naufer played a major role in the attack.”

Now to the most important fact. Nowhere has the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which conducted investigations in Sri Lanka, said that “Naufer Moulavi is the mastermind of the attacks.” Why then is Minister Weerasekera plugging his own line of findings when the FBI has not taken up that position? Only he has the answers.

Public Security Minister Retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera

According to the FBI, “Mohamed Naufer, the “second emir” for the group of ISIS supporters that called itself “ISIS in Sri Lanka,” who allegedly led the group’s propaganda efforts, recruited others to join ISIS, and led a series of multi-day military-type trainings.” The word Emir means a Commander or a Prince. Going by the FBI description of Naufer as the “second emir,” it is only logical that there is a first. Who is this? Should not such a person be the Commander of “ISIS in Sri Lanka?” This description came a year years ago. Surely, Minister Weerasekera could have had this clarified through diplomatic channels.

Naufer, together with two others – Mohamed Anwar Mohamed Riskin and Ahamed Milhan Hayathu Mohamed – now stands indicted by the US Department of Justice in the US District Court in Los Angeles on charges of terrorism offences. Riskin is accused of helping to manufacture IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) used in the attacks. Hayathu Mohamed has been indicted for allegedly executing a Police Officer to obtain his firearm, shot a suspected informant, and scouted a location for a separate terrorist attack.

The reference to Hayathu Mohamed is over an incident in Vavunativu in the Batticaloa district in December 2018 when two Police officers were killed. They were manning a watch hut there. CID investigations concluded, wrongly though, that the murder was the work of Tiger guerrilla remnants. The FBI findings threw more light. The attack by those backing “ISIS in Sri Lanka” was to seize the weapons of the two officers. One assault rifle was found in their camp at Wanathavillu in the Puttalam district and was later identified.

This is not the first time Minister Weerasekera has accused Mohamed Naufer (Moulavi) as the “mastermind” behind the Easter Sunday attacks. As pointed out in these columns (The Sunday Times – Political Commentary) on April 11, 2021, “firstly, if indeed Naufer Moulavi was the mastermind, why was he not summoned to testify before the Commission of Inquiry that probed the incidents? Secondly, has the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) any evidence to confirm this belated claim? In the voluminous reports of the Commission, there is no reference to Naufer being a mastermind. Neither is he named for being behind any of the attacks. However, the Commission has only named Milhan Hayathu Mohamed as among the three “persons who are directly connected with the terrorist acts referred to in the mandate.”  If indeed there was any other evidence with the CID to prove beyond doubt that Naufer Moulavi was the “mastermind” it has not come to the public domain. Nor has Minister Weerasekera made it known to back up his own claim.

Attorney General Dappula de Livera

Even findings in the report of the Commission of Inquiry that Naufer Moulavi studied at a college operated by the Sri Lanka Jama’athe Islami are challenged. In a letter to the Sunday Times contesting the reference made to his organisation (quoting the Commission report), Assistant General Secretary, M.H.M. Hassen said, “It is mentioned that Naufer Moulavi studied at a college operated by the Sri Lanka Jama’athe Islami. We would like to state that The Sri Lanka Jama’athe Islami does not operate any such educational institutions.” He denied that Naufer Moulavi had ever been a paid employee or an office bearer of the SLJI in its history.

A US Embassy spokesperson said, “Following the Easter Sunday attacks, the Government of Sri Lanka asked for our support, and the FBI responded quickly partnering effectively with Sri Lankan counterparts to investigate the tragic terrorist attacks.”

To further place matters in context, a January 8, 2021 dated news release of the US Department of Justice, appearing in its website, is important. Here are significant highlights: “The Justice Department announced today that three Sri Lankan citizens have been charged with terrorism offenses, including conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (ISIS).  The men were part of a group of ISIS supporters which called itself “ISIS in Sri Lanka.”  That group is responsible for the 2019 Easter attacks in the South Asian nation of Sri Lanka, which killed 268 people, including five U.S. citizens, and injured over 500 others, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed today.

The complaint outlines the defendants’ roles in the conspiracy and the events that led to near-simultaneous suicide bombings in the Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa on April 21, 2019.  One of the U.S. citizens killed was a Department of Commerce employee who had traveled to Sri Lanka on official business.

Two days after the attacks, ISIS claimed credit for the terrorist acts, attributing the murders to “Islamic State fighters.”  In late April 2019, the then-leader of ISIS praised the attackers for what he called a retaliation against “the West” for defeating ISIS the prior month in Baghuz, Syria.

“ISIS’s Easter attacks in Sri Lanka killed 268 people, including five Americans, many while they worshiped,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Today, we charge these defendants with bearing their share of the responsibility for these deaths.  According to these charges, the defendants were committed supporters of ISIS, recruited others to ISIS’s violent cause, purchased materials for and made IEDs, helped to prepare and trained others who participated in the attacks, and murdered in the name of this deadly foreign terrorist organization.  They are in custody in Sri Lanka.  We fully support the Sri Lankan investigation and prosecution of these terrorists and will continue to work with the authorities there to pursue our shared goal of holding these defendants accountable for their crimes.  At the same time, these charges reflect that the U.S. justice system remains a powerful tool to bring to bear against those who harm our citizens abroad.  We will continue to pursue justice for the victims of these heinous attacks and for all American victims of terrorism.”

“This case clearly demonstrates that the United States will take decisive action to ensure terrorists face justice when they target Americans anywhere in the world,” said Nick Hanna, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.  “The United States remains confident in the Sri Lankan authorities’ ability to bring the perpetrators to justice – and this complaint makes clear that we stand ready with these charges in the event the defendants attempt to evade justice.”

“The domestic charges announced today for an attack on foreign soil represent the FBI’s commitment to deliver justice to traveling American victims and to protect U.S. interests here and abroad,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.  “For decades, and particularly since 9/11, the FBI has deployed agents to various parts of the world to establish an investigative foothold and to liaison with local counterparts with a shared goal of combatting terror globally.  Our enduring hope is that criminal prosecution – whether domestic or foreign – will bring some peace to the hundreds of victims killed or injured in Sri Lanka as a result of this horrific attack.”

“The criminal case filed on Dec. 11, 2020, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles is the result of a nearly two-year investigation by the FBI, which assisted Sri Lankan authorities in the wake of the suicide bombings that targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels frequented by Westerners.  The defendants named in the complaint, along with other suspects linked to the attacks, currently are detained in Sri Lanka, where a criminal investigation is ongoing.

“According to the complaint, the three charged defendants and others involved in the conspiracy – including eight terrorists who died in the suicide bombings – conspired to provide, provided, and attempted to provide material support, including services and personnel, to ISIS through various actions, including: (1) creating, maintaining, and serving as members of a group of ISIS supporters in Sri Lanka devoted to ISIS, its ideology, and to planning and encouraging violent attacks to advance ISIS’s goals; (2) obtaining explosive materials and IED components; (3) manufacturing and testing IEDs, including the types of IEDs ultimately used in the attack; (4) recruiting other ISIS in Sri Lanka members; (5) using ISIS-created training materials to instruct and train the attackers and their co-conspirators in the use of firearms and explosives; (6) procuring safe houses for the group to prepare for attacks in the name of ISIS, including the Easter Attacks, while avoiding law enforcement detection; (7) following ISIS directives to use specific end-to-end encrypted messaging applications to conceal the criminal conspiracy; (8) murdering two Sri Lankan police officers to obtain the officers’ firearms; and (9) shooting a suspected police informant.”

“All three defendants are charged with conspiring to provide, providing, and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.  Additionally, Naufar and Milhan are charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of military-type training from ISIS.

“The FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles, including personnel assigned responsibilities for extraterritorial matters, is leading the investigation.  This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annamartine Salick, George E. Pence IV and Christine M. Ro of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section, and Trial Attorney Alicia Cook of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance.”

Why then is Public Security Minister Weerasekera making an all-out effort to change the course of history and come to his own conclusions? Quite clearly, they transcend the findings of the Commission of Inquiry. Before one can address the issue in question, it is relevant to note that the FBI has been able to conclude an investigation and file indictments within a period of two years. That too in a US court on an incident that occurred in Sri Lanka. What about the CID and even the local intelligence agencies? Leave alone filing charges, they have not been able to cohesively lay bare how the attacks came about, who the leader is, who funded them, how they operated and who gave them political support. Of course, one lot who held sway during the previous yahapalana regime then had to give way to another new group. That politics has been the cancer that afflicted a once premier organisation like the CID is all too well known. The department no longer tolerates politically independent officers.

Minister Weerasekera’s reiteration of the government’s new position in Parliament has its origins in the remarks outgoing Attorney General Dappula de Livera made. He charged that the CID had not been able to complete investigations and report to him so he could file indictments before retirement. De Livera retires as Attorney General on Tuesday. The remarks first prompted Minister Weerasekera to call for a report from the CID. He followed that up with the statement in Parliament on Wednesday.

One of de Livera’s strong points compared to other Attorneys General, is that he devoted considerable attention to maintain a high profile in the media. His stock in trade was key elements in different cases and an occasional jibe at the Police. There have been times when this was an embarrassment to the government. It was yet helpless, and it turned out to be costly. The task he undertook could have been easily carried out by a spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice. Moreso, since the AG’s Department was functioning under it. Allowing him a free hand cost the government. For his media drive, he used the services of a colleague who served as Co-ordinating Officer. Ahead of the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, that he made efforts to remain as AG did not pay dividends. So much so, he rejected an offer to be Sri Lanka’s new High Commissioner to Canada. He learnt of his possible posting from newspaper accounts. He declared he wanted to serve the people.

If Minister Weerasekera’s remarks were intended to be a rebuke to AG de Livera, his statement raises much more serious issues. Firstly, the CID has so far not been able to file a single indictment through the AG against those involved in the attacks. That includes the case of Naufer Moulavi. Secondly, the Commission of Inquiry that probed the Easter Sunday incidents did not have any material evidence to link Naufer as a person involved in the attacks leave alone being a “mastermind.” Hence, the question is whether identifying Naufer as the “mastermind” an effort to take the outcome in an entirely different direction. This is particularly in the light of the Commission making accusations of criminal negligence against many persons including former President, Maithripala Sirisena. Of course, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has declared repeatedly that no one responsible will be spared.

The unhappiest in this situation is Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who has been blowing hot and cold over government’s actions. Early last month, he declared the church would launch protests every Sunday to show its displeasure over the lack of government action. The threat died as the CID launched investigations into the roles played by former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and his brother Riyaj. Here again, fresh investigations have begun more than two years after the incident.

This week Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith did come in for some strong criticism after he teamed up with the Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, for a joint news conference. It was not on the Easter Sunday incidents but on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill. The Cardinal said that no country should be given control of the manmade island located outside the Presidential Secretariat. The criticism was particularly in the light of the Catholic prelate’s association with Ven Gunawansa Thera, an opposition activist known for his fiery rhetoric. Ahead of the presidential election, he was a strong supporter of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature.

Father Cyril Gamini, Parish Priest of St Anne’s Church, Kurana, Negombo and a spokesperson for the church spoke to the Sunday Times. He said, “The Government and the Police need to give a clear explanation on the comments made by the outgoing Attorney General Dappula de Livera regarding the progress of the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks. We were surprised by the comments by AG Livera who has been Attorney General for almost two years.  He did not take up this position before.

“We were given the impression so far that the investigations were on track. The outgoing AG also in an interview to a TV station mentioned that the attack was a ‘conspiracy.’ We need an explanation on that as the Church also believed the attack was a conspiracy.

“On the other hand, we do not accept the recent comments made by the Minister of Public Security, Sarath Weerasekara, who claims that Naufer Moulavi was the “mastermind” of the attack. He may have been a person involved, but we do not accept the claim by the Minister as this suspect had been custody for a considerable time. Only now he has been named the “mastermind.” We want to know who the actual mastermind is. Therefore, we need a clear explanation from the relevant persons. We also want to know if there is political pressure on the investigators.”

In an interview with News First channel, AG de Livera said: Evidence and ntelligence material and relevant pieces of information must be carefully evaluated in order to reach a conclusion on the leadership with regard to the 2019 April 21st attacks.

“There is a Grand Conspiracy with regard to the 2019 April Attacks,” said the Attorney General adding that the information by the State Intelligence Service with regard to times, targets, places, method of attacks and other information is clear evidence there was a Grand Conspiracy in place.

Speaking exclusively to News 1st’s Zulfick Farzan, Attorney General de Livera said that the identities of those involved in the grand conspiracy must come by the way of evidence.

He said the AGs Department is now focused on a conspiracy surrounding the terror attacks adding that there are multiple suspects connected to it including Naufer Maulavi, the person that the Sri Lankan government ruled as the mastermind of the attacks.

On the 06th of April 2021, Sri Lanka’s Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd) Dr. Sarath Weerasekara told reporters that Naufer Maulavi was identified as the mastermind of the 2019 April 21st attacks.

However, Attorney General de Livera speaking to News 1st said Naufer Maulavi is a key figure in the conspiracy to carry out the attacks, and it is not possible to confirm if he was the mastermind, though he is leader of the group.

“This needs to be looked at holistically and time would tell,” said the Attorney General adding the present investigation is on a group of people who participated in planning the attacks.

The suicide bombers are the people who executed this conspiracy and they are not among the living, said the Attorney General noting that a considerable number of people who assisted the suicide bombers have been identified by detectives.

“The conspirators of these attacks are at a different level. People like Zaharan Hashim (the leader of the group that carried out the attacks) would have been involved in the conspiracy though he decided to explode himself,” De Livera added.

“We cannot say the investigation on the Grand Conspiracy has been concluded,” said de Livera.

According to the Attorney General, some planned the attacks and there are those who acted in between to direct the suicide bombers to execute the attacks as part of the grand conspiracy, however, the evidence must be looked at very carefully.

For the moment the investigators have not brought evidence of foreign individuals who are connected to the attacks, and these people are referred to as ‘others unknown to the prosecution’, said the Attorney General noting it is probable they would never be known, however, the investigations are focused on three people living overseas (Lukman Thalib and Son in Australia and Abu Hind in India) for their connection to the attacks.

Commenting on the controversy surrounding Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah Jasmine, the Attorney General said her death at the Sainthamaruthu gun battle followed by an explosion is yet to be confirmed.

“We understand that she fled to India, but that too is not confirmed. Actually, her whereabouts remain unknown,” said the Attorney General.

There is no evidence to prove there was a foreign hand in the attacks, at the moment, said the Attorney General adding that the Foreign Violent Extremist Religious Ideology was imported to Sri Lanka at some point and it played a key role in carrying out the attacks.

Attorney General Dappula De Livera said there are many other cases connected to the 2019 April 21st attacks that need to be looked at and they are;

01.   16th April 2019 motorcycle explosion in the Eastern Province (Kattankudy)

02.   The Grand Conspiracy

03.   The Sainthamaruthu Gun Battle and Explosion

04.   Public Officers in the Defence and Police hierarchy who failed to prevent the attacks

05.   PCoI recommendations on former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“These matters need to be investigated and more evaluation needs to be done,” stressed the Attorney General, highlighting that the probe is more complex than thought.”

Covid and fertilser crises

This week’s events show that Minister Weerasekera’s remarks have only added to the government’s woes over which the catalogue is growing every day. The most important is the COVID-19 pandemic, with its third spike recording a death toll of 411 in the past 20 days. Yesterday, the overnight total of deaths was 44. The active cases in the latest wave have exceeded 30,000 and bed space in some hospitals has run short. Creditably, State Minister Sudarshini Fernandopulle was bold enough this week to exhort that increasing the bed strength in hospitals and intermediate care centres was not the answer. She declared that at least a two week lockdown would be necessary. Frontline workers, particularly doctors and nurses, have exhausted themselves in meeting with the increasing number of patients. Her views have been endorsed by those in the medical profession. As expected, the daily active toll has now exceded the 3,000 mark with projections being made for 4,000 per day in the coming weeks. It is a tragic irony that the government has not been able to come to grips with the crisis so far.

Her appeal, also directed to the Sri Lanka community abroad, for equipment and other needs, demonstrates the bind the government is in. Only a few days before, there were statements being made that the government had no shortages. This clearly demonstrates not only a lack of forward thinking but most advice from the medical profession was being ignored. The State Minister called on the private sector to assist in getting the required vaccine. They were galvanised to rise to the cause only to be shot down yet again as their initial proposal in early February met with the same fate.

Another cause for serious concern has been the ban on chemical fertiliser. The matter figured at a government parliamentary group meeting chaired by Prime Minister Rajapaksa. Parliamentarians from several districts protested that the ban was causing tremendous hardships to farmers. They said that the worst hit were tea and rubber plantations. Some even went to the point of saying they faced the threat of being ‘politically wiped out’ by the ban. The protests by MPs saw heated exchanges with Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage. At the end, he undertook to brief President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the situation.

Earlier, both Minister G.L. Peiris and State Minister, Nivard Cabraal, briefed the MPs on the Bill to set up the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Zone. This was ahead of it being taken up for a two-day debate and being passed by Parliament.

US Congress resolution
against Lanka

Another matter of significance is the introduction in the US Congress of a bipartisan resolution calling for an “international mechanism for crimes committed in Sri Lanka.” It has been moved by Deborah Ross. The resolution says:

“(1) acknowledges the 12th anniversary of the end of the war in Sri Lanka and offers its deepest condolences to all those affected by the conflict;

(2) honours the memory of those who died and reaffirms its solidarity with the people of all communities in Sri Lanka in their search for reconciliation, reconstruction, reparation, and reform;

(3) commends the United Nations Human Rights Council for prioritising the collection and preservation of evidence related to human rights violations, a process that must not be interfered with by the Government of Sri Lanka;

(4) recognises the bravery and commitment of advocates for justice across all communities in Sri Lanka, including the Tamil families of the disappeared, whose protests and demands for answers have at times been met with threats, intimidation, and harassment by government security forces;

(5) urges the international community to advocate for and protect the political rights and representation of the historically oppressed northeastern region of Sri Lanka and work towards a permanent political solution to address the underlying issues that led to ethnic conflict;

(6) recommends the United States explore investigations and prosecutions pursuant to the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and

(7) urges the United States to work with the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council, and the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a credible and effective international mechanism for accountability for the grave crimes committed during the war in Sri Lanka.”

The sting is in paragraphs 3,6, and 7 which seek to invoke the UN Security Council, the only body with legal teeth. This is whilst the Sri Lanka issue remains on the agenda for the UN Human Rights Council sessions in September, this year. Thus, the government has a lethal cocktail of many issues to cope with in the weeks and months to come.


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