SL does not have laws to tackle extremism – former SIS head

Ethnic tensions exploited by extremists to advance their cause

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Islamic extremism had become the biggest threat to national security, by 2017, former SIS Director and SDIG of Eastern Province, Nilantha Jayawardena, on Wednesday (29), told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

The witness said that the SIS had informed that to Defence Secretaries, IGPs and Chief of National Intelligence and that he had expected the Ministry of Defence to share the information with other stakeholders.

The former SIS Director said that he had also made three presentations, between 2016 and 2017, on the rising religious extremism to senior police officers, as instructed by the IGPs

Jayawardena said he had highlighted animosity between Muslims and Sinhalese and how tensions could be used by extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim.

A number of Buddhist organisations were disturbed by the halal certification, dress code of Muslim women, etc., he said.

As a part of their response certain Muslim organisations had encouraged people to lodge police complaints against the Sinhalese over even unimportant issues, Jayawardena said. Such complaints were then used to justify claims of suppression, he said. They also lodged complaints with the Human Rights Commission. "Politicians like Azath Salley and M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, too, followed that line. Sometimes even the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, an extremely powerful international body too was informed of those complaints."

By 2017, some Muslim groups had internationalised the tensions between Muslims and Sinhalese and their modus operandi was akin to the tactics used by the LTTE, Jayawardena said. That had enabled extremists like Zahran to recruit people, the witness said, adding that Zahran had spoken extensively on Aluthgama and Digana riots.

"We asked the police to take swift action when complaints involving Muslims and Sinhalese were reported," he said.

Jayawardena said he had warned that when a community felt isolated there was room for international terrorism to creep in. A member of the commission then asked Jayawardena whether his reports on religious extremism had borne any results. Jayawardena said that the SIS had no power to question or arrest individuals. It was dedicated to gather and share intelligence and it had done its best, Jayawardena said.

Out of all the intelligence agencies the SIS had the lowest strength, but he was happy with what it had done although its work had not borne the desired results, the former SIS‚ÄąDirector said.

Jayawardena said that around that time he had spoken to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about registering those who left Sri Lanka on foreign scholarships, especially to West Asia.

"Lots of people get scholarships but we don’t know what they study or do. Unlike here in countries like Abu Dhabi mosques are told what to say in their Friday prayers. Also in their madrasas teachers have to stick to prescribed syllabi. They were closely monitored."

The ex-SIS Director added that new technology had to be used more to tackle extremism. "For example in the airport we must use eyeball technology. People can come after changing appearance using plastic surgery, so eyeball and fingerprinting technology is needed," he said, noting that Sri Lanka didn’t have laws to deal with radicalism.

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