Easter bombings: new evidence points to lapses

Former officials say they had warnings

Updated - December 03, 2021 08:40 am IST

Published - June 06, 2019 10:39 pm IST - COLOMBO

Ex-Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando.

Ex-Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando.

Testifying before a parliamentary panel on Thursday, Sri Lanka’s suspended police chief and former Defence Secretary confirmed that prior intelligence on a possible terror attack was available since April 9, and was shared among top police and defence officials, both, on the eve and the morning of the April 21 Easter bombings.

IGP Pujith Jayasundara told the Parliamentary Select Committee set up to probe Easter attacks that he received two calls on an imminent threat, after receiving a similar letter on April 9, from the Chief of National Intelligence. “I got two calls from the Director of the State Intelligence Service – one on the evening of April 20, saying ‘tomorrow will be dangerous, something can happen’ and another, on April 21, between 6.45 a.m. and 7.15 a.m. saying ‘something can happen today.’ The IGP said he had alerted all DIGs concerned, and that there was no practice of the IGP haring intelligence with the President.

The senior officials were the first two to face the consequences of Easter attacks. The police chief who had initially refused to resign, was later sent on “compulsory leave’. The ex-Defence Secretary stepped down from his post days after the attacks.

Pressured by Sirisena

Claiming that he did what he could as an IGP, Mr. Jayasundara said, “There was no Emergency declared. I had no power to declare a curfew. I could not do this alone”. The IGP also admitted that he was pressured by President Maithripala Sirisena to accept blame for the attacks and resign. Responding to PSC members’ questions, he said the President had offered him an ambassadorial position in return for his resignation, and also assured him that a presidential committee investigating the blasts would “clear his name”.

The suspended police chief has also petitioned the Supreme Court, against being asked to go on “compulsory leave”. According to AFP news agency, his 20-page complaint revealed serious communication gaps between intelligence agencies and security arms of the government. Thursday’s sitting was the third held by the PSC, which is expected to obtain testimonies from the Director-SIS and the CID in the coming weeks.

President Sirisena, who holds both Defence, and Law and Order Ministries, was in Singapore on the day of the attacks, on a private visit. He has said that the prior intelligence available with officials had not been passed on to him.

Former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, who told the legislators’ panel that he was aware of a possible threat on April 21, said he “assumed” that the State Intelligence Service chief would have informed the President, “as was the practice”. His testimony, too, disclosed the glaring lapses in intelligence sharing within the security establishment helmed by Mr. Sirisena.

“As Defence Secretary I struggled to meet my Minister [Mr. Sirisena] even once in two weeks. I was helpless,’ he told the panel. Asked why, he said, “He didn’t have time.”

Further, Mr. Fernando’s witness exposed the fissures within the government that appeared to have only deepened since the October 2018 political crisis. Responding to a question, Mr. Fernando confirmed that the President had specifically told him not to invite Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the IGP and the State Minister for Defence, the National Security Council meetings since Nov 13, 2018. At least four meetings took place from then until April 25, 2019, the day Mr. Fernando resigned.

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