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Easter Sunday attacks

Three months on are we still in the dark?

By Arjuna Ranawana

It is three months today since a group of suicidal extremists upended our society by killing Easter Sunday worshippers in three Churches and Brunching holidaymakers in three five star hotels in the capital.

These tragic events destroyed post-war glow we had been enjoying sans checkpoints and body searches.

Our politicians promptly bought hundreds of millions of rupees worth of armoured limousines, increased the number of Defenders escorting them and began pointing fingers at each other trying to foist the blame for the sheer negligence that allowed these attacks to happen.

There are three separate investigations, one by a Parliamentary Select Committee which is conducting its inquisition with the Media in attendance.

The second is a three-person committee appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena headed by a Supreme Court Judge called the Malalgoda Committee which has completed is investigation.

The third is a wide-ranging investigation being carried out by the Criminal investigation Department and the Terrorism Investigation Division of the police.

In the initial investigation some matters were established:

  • The attack was organized and carried out by the National Towheed Jamaat, an extremist Islamist Organisation based out of the Eastern Province
  • All the suicide cadres the NTJ had either died in the initial attacks or perished when they tried to defend themselves against security forces personnel
  • They were homegrown terrorists but may have been inspired by Islamic State and some cadres may have been radicalized when they studied overseas
  • The Sri Lankan authorities received detailed information about the attacks at least two weeks before the blasts.

The big question that has now to be answered is after the information was received why was no action taken to protect the targets.

The Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter attacks
Members of the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter attacks/Parliament.lk

This is the most high profile of the current probes.

The PSC has a fact-finding mission. It aims to find out whether there has been negligence on the part of the officials and have the authorities reacted expeditiously and efficiently to the intelligence reports.

It will also propose what action should be taken in the future to avoid a similar occurrence.

The committee has a drawback as the Joint Opposition and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna refused to accept seats on the committee and only UNP MPs and one TNA MP sit on it.

The most significant matter about the committee is that it is open to Media. This is the first time in Sri Lanka’s history that the working of a Select Committee has been opened in this manner.

Some of the sessions have been telecast live either by terrestrial channels or online.

A number of important figures ranging from politicians, religious leaders and security officials have testified.

Some startling revelations have been made.

Among them, the Police Chief Pujith Jayasundera said that President Maithripala Sirisena had asked him to accept responsibility for the lapses in security and tender his resignation and in turn was promised a diplomatic posting.

Former Secretary to the Ministry of Defense Hemasiri Fernando said the President had instructed him not to invite the Prime Minister and the IGP for Security Council meetings.

The Malalgoda Committee

President Sirisena appointed a three-member committee day after the attacks to investigate any lapses on the part of officials.

The committee comprised Supreme Court Justice Vijith Malalgoda, former IGP N K Ilangakoon and former Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Order Padmasiri Jayamanne.

The committee, now being referred to as a Board of Inquiry, handed in its final report to the President on June 10.

Although Sirisena promised that the contents of this report would be made public, only the Attorney General’s department appears to have it.

The AG has followed through on this report and ordered the arrest of former Secretary Defense Fernando and IGP Jayasundera.

They are currently under arrest and have been charged with murder under Section 296 of the Penal Code.

The AG’s position has been challenged by the Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne who did not recognize the “judicial nature” of the Board of Inquiry. She also faulted the Police for arresting Fernando and Jayasundera without recording their statements.

CID and TID investigations

These investigations have concentrated on the network built by the NTJ and its associates.

By all accounts, the CID has rolled up most of the networks of this organisation and was able to even trace some operatives overseas.