08/07/2019, 16.23
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Wickremesinghe acknowledges government responsibility in Easter Sunday attacks

by Melani Manel Perera

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister reported to the Parliamentary Select Committee. “My security officials were not informed,” he said. Some 263 people died in the 21 April attacks. President Sirisena has not invited the prime minister to Security Council meetings since October 2018.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe (pictured), in his testimony before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) yesterday, took full responsibility, on behalf of his government, for the intelligence failures and lapses that made the Easter Sunday attacks possible.

On 21 April, terrorists attacked three churches and three luxury hotels in the capital, killing the 263 people and wounding of another 600, mostly Christians.

"[A]s a government [. . .], we cannot escape from the responsibility," said Wickremesinghe. “That is why this PSC is meeting to find out 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 added.

According to the prime minister, the competent ministers briefed him from time to time about the activities of Islamic extremists in the country, rather than wait for the reports of the National Security Council (NSC), which take two weeks.

Mr Wickremesinghe noted that the last time he took part in an NSC meeting was in October 2018. After that, President Maithripala Sirisena no longer invited him to participate. Sirisena also excluded the Inspector General of Police, Pujith Jayasundara.

The prime minister confirmed the existence of foreign intelligence reports and information notes on terrorist activities in the country, received through diplomatic channels. They were not just about Islamic extremists, but also about Sinhalese militants and failed attempts to revive Tamil extremism.

Some reports warned Sri Lankan authorities about the activities of Zahran Hashim, leader of the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), the jihadi group behind the Easter attacks.

"We handed over the operations to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). Police had informed the Attorney General's Department. TID obtained a warrant against Zahran,” but “they thought Zahran had left the country via sea route to India”.

Wickremesinghe ended his testimony saying that the Prime Minister's Security Division (PMSD) was not aware of the exchange of letters between the Inspector General of Police and the former secretary to the Ministry of Defence, which came to light after the attacks.

Top security officials warned each other about the imminent threat. However, “My security officials were not informed,” the prime minister explained. “I checked after the attacks; they did not receive it [the letter]. I came to know of that letter on 21 April after that attacks.”

(Photo credit: Chamila Karunarathna).

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