Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, yesterday, said that the entire government and Cabinet of ministers were responsible for the mistakes and lapses that permitted the Easter Sunday terror attacks.
Testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday carnage, the Prime Minister said: “Certainly, there had been a lapse. We are now in transitional period and we intend to find measures to prevent them.”
The PSC members present, yesterday, were Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, M.A. Sumanthiran, Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Chairman Ananda Kumarasiri and Dr. Jayampathi Wickremaratne.
Prime Minister: The issue had been raised several times at the NSC. I received a couple of reports from the Minister of Law and Order. Those reports had been sent by the intelligence units. The reports were about ISIS sympathisers and religious clashes. We had been informed of a Sri Lankan who died in Syria while fighting for ISIS.
Chairman Kumarasiri: Did the State Intelligence Service inform you of extremist activities?
Prime Minister: I got information from the Law and Order Ministers. Such information comes before the National Security Council, It takes couple more weeks. So, I used to get it from my ministers.
Minister Karunanayake: When was the last time you attended the NSC?
Prime Minister: I attended the NSC in October 2018. Thereafter, I was not invited. Later, I found that the IGP, too, had not been invited. There was a government change. After I was sworn in again, I was informed of another NSC meeting in February 2019.
Minister Karunanayake: From where did you get information about the extremists and those who had been working against the Sri Lanka’s interests in the East?
Prime Minister: Kattankudy had been known as a centre for extremists. I got that information from the Ministers of Law and Order. They got it from the State Intelligence Service and other intelligence units. Information pertaining to the military activities I received from the NSC.
Minister Karunanayake: Foreign agencies and the Turkish Ambassador had warned of the disaster and terror groups. Did you receive them?
Prime Minister: There had been reports from various embassies of the activities in their countries
Dr. Jayatissa: Could you tell us about the composition of the National Security Council?
Prime Minister: President, Prime Minister, Defence Minister, State Defence Minister, Law and Order Minister, Defence Secretary, Commanders of the tri-forces, Chief of Defence Staff, intelligence units, IGP and Secretary Law and Order are there on the permanent basis. Foreign minister is summoned sometimes, Finance Minister used to be there during the times of President JR Jayewardene and R Premadasa. Some other ministers were invited from time to time.
Dr. Jayatissa: The NSC did not meet for a long time after the change of government. Is it so?
Prime Minister: I heard that it met in February 2019, but the law and order ministry continued to hold meetings. Much information came from them.
Dr. Jayatissa: What was that information?
Prime Minister: There was information about strikes, demonstrations, during the time of war information of LTTE activities, recently there was information of religious groups. But there was no information of terrorist activities
Dr. Jayatissa: What action did the NSC take?
Prime Minister: We handed over the operations to the Terrorist Investigation Division. Police informed the Attorney General department. The TID obtained a warrant against Zahran under the ICCPR Act. They thought Zahran had left for India by sea.
Dr. Jayatissa: Were there any other terrorists?
Prime Minister: I think they had evidence only against Zahran
Dr. Jayatissa: Did you see any development of extremist groups?
Prime Minister: I checked on those who had been to Syria. Muslims had concerns about those elements. There were not only reports on Muslim extremism but also of Sinhala extremism. Some had attempted to revive Tamil extremism too, but in vain.
Dr. Jayatissa: What about those extremists coming from foreign countries to spread extremism in Madrasas?
Prime Minister: There were no reports before the attacks. Madrasas were then under the Muslim Religious Affairs Ministry
Dr. Jayatissa: Wasn’t there any attention paid to the Arabization of the East?
Prime Minister: Those who were responsible for such activities were mostly in other areas. But there were no reports to that effect to the best of my knowledge. There were reports of similar activities in private organizations.
Dr. Jayatissa: The extremists graduated to terrorist activities after November 2018. Was that matter taken up at the Cabinet?
Prime Minister: Yes, Minister Kabir Hashim raised the issue at the Cabinet several times. I, too, made several inquiries after Buddha statues were attacked in Mawanella. The investigations were in progress.
Dr. Jayatissa: The Chief of National Intelligence and Director SIS wrote to the IGP. It was given to the security officials of the VIPs. Did your security officials get that information?
Prime Minister: No. They did not get it. We did not get it. It was not sent to the Prime Minister’s Security Division. The IGP admitted later on that he had not sent it to the PMSD. My security officials were not informed. They did not know. I checked after the attack, they had not received it. I came to know of that letter on April 21 after the attack.
Dr. Jayatissa: Minister Harin Fernando said that his father was aware of the impending the attacks and had warned him against going to church on Easter Sunday. Who had informed him of the impending attack?
Prime Minister: you should ask the minister of that. As I know, his father too had got it not from the police but from some other party.
Dr. Wickremaratne: Could you describe the NSC meetings?
Prime Minister: As far as I know there were weekly meetings after the war broke out in 1983. I do not know whether it had to be held weekly. But that was there.
Dr. Wickremaratne: Could the NSC meet without the minister of defence
Prime Minister: Yes, during the times of President D. B. Wijetunga, I chaired those meetings on behalf of him and reported back to him. CBK gave me powers to summon it whenever she was abroad
Dr. Wickremaratne: After April 21 attacks you tried to summon the NSC, did you?
Prime Minister: Yes. Soon after the attacks I found that there was chaos. I went to the ministry. I had the experience from working under presidents on how to work in such situations. We met there and spoke to the President and took action.
M.A. Sumanthiran: Whose duty is it to summon the NSC?
Prime Minister: General practice is for the President’s Office to summon the meeting.
M.A. Sumanthiran: When did you come to know of the NSC in February?
Prime Minister: After the meeting.
M.A. Sumanthiran: Did you inquire why you had been not invited?
Prime Minister: In fact, I asked from the IGP and came to know that he, too, had not been invited
M.A. Sumanthiran: Didn’t you ask the president?
Prime Minister: I asked him about retaining Law and Order under him. He said he wanted to continue investigations into the conspiracy to assassinate him
M.A. Sumanthiran: Do you think that was suitable?
Prime Minister: That investigation had commenced by then.
M.A. Sumanthiran: Do you think as the Prime Minister responsible for this?
Prime Minister: I say that we as a government and the Cabinet we cannot escape the responsibility. That is why this PSC is meeting to find what went wrong.
Prof. Marasinghe: What is the situation with regard to Madrasas being regulated?
Prime Minister: The draft Act is prepared. It will be presented to Parliament. In addition, I proposed to several ministers that we might need new laws. In countries such as England, new crimes and offences are included in their legal provisions. They upgrade those lists of crimes at least once in two years. The laws in the country are not sufficient to face the threat of global terrorism.
Field Marshal Fonseka: Those who came before this PSC talked of various shortcomings in the defence mechanism leading to the disaster. I think that they do not have any knowledge or instinct to prevent terror activities. Do you think that experience and awareness are necessary to hold the ministry of defence?
Prime Minister: The initial reports did not specify terrorist activities. It is good that those who are going to hold such positions to have instinct and awareness. We had a mechanism for countering the LTTE threats. Now, we are changing it. We are in a new era of terrorism. It is not only the guns or bombs now. There are new weapons. It could even be a knife or a motor vehicle.
(Source: The Island – By Saman Indrajith)