Security systems were undermined, says probe report

A parliamentary panel in Sri Lanka has accused President Maithripala Sirisena of “actively undermining” government and security systems, leading to serious lapses ahead of the Easter terror attacks.

In a report tabled in the House on Wednesday, the panel noted that the President “failed in numerous occasions to give leadership and also actively undermined government and systems, including having ad hoc NSC [National Security Council] meetings”, and leaving out key individuals from those discussions.

Further, it said Sri Lanka’s intelligence chief had failed to act on multiple terror warnings received ahead of the April 21 bombings. “This failure by the SIS [State Intelligence Service] has resulted in hundreds of deaths, many more injured and immeasurable devastation to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans and that must not be treated lightly,” the report said.

Following a resolution passed in Parliament in May, a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was formed and tasked with probing the Easter Sunday terror attacks that claimed over 250 lives and injured nearly 400 people.

A total of 55 persons, including President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, testified before the PSC. The 24 sittings also covered senior bureaucrats, intelligence officials and police officers.

Confirming prior media reports, the PSC pointed to SIS Director Nilantha Jayawardane receiving intelligence information, on possible terror attacks, on April 4. The Director SIS “bears the greatest responsibility”, the panel has noted, since 2018, the SIS had asked other agencies [Terrorist Investigation Division] to stop investigating complaints on Zahran Hashim, the alleged mastermind of the Easter day bombing.

While observing that neither President Sirisena nor PM Wickremesinghe was aware of the specific terror threat, the PSC had named both leaders, along with other officials, as being responsible for the serious intelligence failure, the Committee’s chairman J.M. Ananda Kumarasiri told media on Wednesday.

Rising extremisms

The panel’s findings highlighted an increasing presence of Wahabism, and “Arabisation” of parts of Sri Lanka in recent years, but at the same time, its members told the media there was a “clear connection” between violence targeting Muslims in recent years and the radicalisation of Muslim youth.

“Evidence received by the PSC indicates that Zahran [Hashim] started a campaign to radicalise Muslim youth and motivate them to use violence to achieve their ends post March 2018 attacks on Muslims in Digana [near Kandy],” according to the report. The 275-page report will likely be debated in Parliament, the panel members said. The report makes a series of recommendations, including security sector reform and action on fake news that could instigate violence. (The Hindu)

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