Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday testifies before the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter Sunday terror attacks
– Pic by Chamila Karunarathna.
- Confirms he was blocked from NSC meetings from Oct. 2018
- But says he never asked President reason
- Says no reports of terrorism at NSC meetings he attended
- But reports of Muslim and Sinhala extremism presented
- Confirms warnings from other countries
- Says letter not sent to his security
- Reiterates need for new laws to tackle int’l terrorism
By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Declining to point fingers at authorities who were unable to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks, testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday held the entire Government, including the Cabinet of Ministers, responsible for mistakes and lapses that led to the attacks.
“I say that we as a Government and the Cabinet, we cannot escape from the responsibility. That is why this PSC is meeting to find what went wrong. Certainly, there had been a lapse. We are now in a transitional period, and we intend to find measures to prevent them from reoccurring,” he said.
According to Wickremesinghe, the Ministers had briefed him of extremist activities in the country from time to time, rather than waiting till the National Security Council sends its reports, which takes two weeks.
“The issue had been raised several times at the National Security Council (NSC) meeting. 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 the ISIS sympathisers and their religious clashes. We had been informed of a Lankan that died in Syria while fighting for ISIS,” he said.
During the committee hearing, it was revealed the Prime Minister last took part in the NSC in October 2018, before the attacks, and he was not invited thereafter by the President, who has also kept out the Inspector General of Police.
“I last attended in October 2018. Thereafter I was not invited. Later I found that the IGP too had not been invited. There was a Government change. I heard that the NSC met on February 2019. Much information came from the Ministry of Law and Order about strikes, demonstrations, during the time of war information of LTTE activities, recently there was the information of religious groups. But there was no information about terrorist activities,” he said.
“As far as I know, there were weekly NSC meetings after the war broke out in 1983. I do not know whether it is needed to be held weekly. But that was there. During the times of President 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. Soon after the Easter Sunday attacks, I found that there was chaos. I went to the Ministry of Defence. We could summon many who are needed. I had the experience of working under Ranasinghe Premadasa and other presidents on how to work in such situations,” he added.
Confirming the intelligence reports and early warnings received from the diplomatic channels, PM Wickremesinghe said: “There had been reports from various embassies of the activities in their countries. 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 that failed. There were no reports of extremists coming from foreign countries to spread extremism in Madrasas before the attacks. We handed over the operations to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). Police had informed the Attorney General Department. The TID obtained a warrant against Zahran under ICCPR Act. They thought Zahran left the country via sea to India.”
According to the Prime Minister, the NSC has permanent members, which include the President, Prime Minister, Defence Minister, State Defence Minister, Law and Order Minister, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Commanders of the Tri-Forces, Chief of Defence Staff, intelligence units, IGP and Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Order. “The Foreign Minister is summoned some times, the Finance Minister used to be there during the times of President J.R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa. Some other Ministers had been summoned occasionally,” held the PM.
Referring to extremists upgrading themselves and engaging in terrorist activities after November 2018, Prime Minister confirmed the matter was also discussed at the Cabinet meeting. “Minister Kabir Hashim raised this issue in the cabinet several times. I too made several inquiries after Buddha statues were attacked in Mawanella. The investigations were in progress,” he said.
According to PM Wickremesinghe, the controversial letters exchanged between a few top officials alerting themselves about the imminent threat was not received by the Prime Minister. “It was not sent to the Prime Minister Security Division. The IGP admitted later on that he did not send it to the PMSD. My security officials were not informed. They did not know. I checked after the attack, they did not receive it. I came to know of that letter on April 21 after that attack. I believe Minister Harin Fernando’s father too had got it, not from the Police, but some other party.”
The Prime Minister, responding to a question as to why he was kept out of the NSC meetings, held that he did not ask the reasons from President Sirisena. “In fact, I asked from the IGP and came to know that he too had not been invited. But I asked President the reasons for bringing Law and Order under him. He said he wanted to continue investigations on the conspiracy to assassinate him,” said Wickremesinghe.
During the investigation, the Prime Minister revealed the laws are drafted to bring Madrasa schools under the Government. “The draft Act is prepared. It would be presented to Parliament. In addition, I proposed to several Ministers that we may need some 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 every two years. The laws in the country are not sufficient to face the threat of global terrorism,” he added. (AH)