Pujith, Hemasiri fully responsible – Sirisena

President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena

Former IGP Pujith Jayasundara and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando should be held fully responsible for not preventing the bombings on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, former President Maithripala Sirisena said.

Adding that no country has pointed a finger at any Head of State for bombings or any other terrorist activities, Sirisena said the officials who did not follow instructions given by him as the President with regard to religious extremism should be held responsible for the Easter Sunday bombings.

He was testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings yesterday (5).

Sirisena also said, he had not been informed of any terrorist activity by any intelligence or other agency prior to the Easter Sunday bombings.

Responding to a question from an Additional Solicitor General (ASG) as to whether matters pertaining to National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) leader, Zaharan Hashim were discussed at the National Security Council (NSC), he said that they had discussed Zaharan and his activities in early January 2019.

He also said that he had instructed the relevant authorities including the Police to arrest him immediately as there was information that Zaharan was propagating the ideology of the Islamic State (IS).

Sirisena also said that although certain witnesses who testified before the Commission had mentioned that the NSC was not functioning properly during his tenure as the President, the NSC was properly functioning at the time.

“If necessary I can submit the contents of my diary with regard to NSC meetings held in January, February and March 2019. The Defence Secretary and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) came to see me once a week and discussed certain issues,” he said.

Adding the intelligence agencies had reported on certain IS terrorist activities took place in various parts of the world between 2017 and 2018, Sirisena said such matters were discussed at the NSC too. According to him, in early January 2019, the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had informed the NSC that Zaharan was conducting classes and delivering extremist lectures. Asked if there had been any report on his extremist activities before, he said he did not remember.

However, the ASG drew Sirisena’s attention to a report dated 30 January 2017, sent to him by the former SIS Director, Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, regarding a clash between two Sinhalese and Muslim groups in the Gintota area in Galle.

The ASG asked the witness whether the report stated that Zaharan had criticised non-Muslims through his social media platforms after the incident and Sirisena admitted that the relevant report stated that.

The Commission also drew the former President’s attention to the reports submitted by the SIS on the propaganda carried out by Zaharan through social media platforms that Jihad is a noble cause. Asked if it was possible to identify Zaharan as an extremist through that, Sirisena said he was an extremist. However, he said that at the time, intelligence agencies had not reported that Zaharan was systematically propagating IS ideology.

He also said that he had instructed the relevant authorities to take necessary action regarding the incident that took place in Gintota according to the relevant reports. The ASG then questioned the witness as to whether Zaharan would not have been called a hardliner in another report sent to him on 27 March 2018 by the SIS, if the officers had acted in accordance with relevant instructions. The report in question also informed him about a statement made by Zaharan that thousands of militants would fight against Sinhala Buddhist extremists.

In response, the former President said that there were certain problems due to weaknesses in certain sectors. He said that the Presidential Secretariat normally receives between 700 and 800 letters a day, of which he receives only a few.

“There are instances where some letters are sent directly to the relevant agencies, including the Police, by the secretaries,” he noted. “I would also provide necessary instructions to the Police and other relevant agencies regarding the letters that I receive,” he added.

“If the authorities had acted in such a manner, would the incidents such as the vandalizing of religious statues in Peradeniya, Mawanella, Kurunegala and Velambada area and the discovery of explosives in the Wanathawilluwa have been reported,” the ASG questioned.

Responding, the former President said, “it is the responsibility of the President to advise and provide the necessary resources to take action on crime, the underworld, extremism or any other illegal activities, but there is no need to wait until the President approves the arrest of a warrant holder or the arrest of a suspect who is involved in any illegal activity. Such things should to be done by the Police. If they cannot do it alone, they have to get the help of armed forces,”

He further said that no matter who the President is, investigations should be carried out by the security forces. The Commission also questioned the witness regarding certain extremist activities of the Jama’at-e-Islami and Sirisena, in reply, said that certain facts were reported during his tenure and that he instructed the then IGP and the DIGs in charge of the respective provinces to take strict action on such matters.

He also said that the intelligence services had informed him on the warrant issued for the arrest of Zaharan following a clash between the NTJ and the Sunnatul Wal Jama’at in Kattankudy in March 2017. When asked if he checked with the IGP whether Zaharan had been arrested, the former President said he had not received information that Zaharan was affiliated with the IS at that time and that he did inquire about it.

He also said former Directors of the SIS and the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) had from time to time reported on the activities of the IS organization through multimedia presentations at the NSC. In each case, the Police and the armed forces were instructed by me to take necessary action, he said.

When asked if the bombings on 21 April, 2019 showed that the officials had not complied with those instructions, he said that the security forces had clearly failed to carry out the instructions.

Responding to a question as to who was responsible for not preventing the bombings, he said that the officers who did not inform him about the possibility of an attack despite having received prior information were responsible for it.  “I learned that they had received initial information on 4 April regarding the possibility of an attack. Fernando and Jayasundera came to my house on 14 April to wish me for the Sinhala and Hindu New Year. But at no point they informed me about this, he said.

The ASG also questioned the former President as to whether he had a strong relationship with former SIS Director SDIG Jayawardena, even more than a relationship between father and a son.

In response Sirisena said, “actually, Fernando and I had a relationship like that of a father and a son. That was why he was appointed as the Defence Secretary of the previous Government too. I also appointed him to several other positions also,” The witness also said that he was not aware of any personal details of SDIG Jayawardena.

He added that it was unfortunate that he had not received any prior information about the Easter Sunday bombings and added it was a very unfortunate situation in his political life and as the President. He further said that he came to know that prior information was received about the attack, at the NSC meeting held on 22 April, 2019.

Sirisena also said he would have cancelled his trip to Singapore on 16 April for treatment and called the NSC meeting immediately to discuss the matter, if he had known about it before the attack.

Testifying further, the witness went on to say “if information was received I would have immediately informed the Cardinal and taken necessary action. I would have done so because I know very well about terrorism since I have a good sense of the fear of death. Especially during the tenures of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa, I was given a strong protection. The terrorists tried to kill me five times. So I know the brutality of terrorism,” he said.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Buddhika Samaraweera)