Easter Sunday carnage: More on politicians’ involvement with terror organisations

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) had received the assistance of Ameer Ali in 2017 and the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had recommended that Kattankudy police should impartially and swiftly investigate the clash there between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat on March 10, 2017, former SIS Director and SDIG of Eastern Province, Nilantha Jayawardena yesterday said before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

Sunnath Wal Jamaat had been backed by politician M. L. A. M. Hizbullah, the witness said.

According to Jayawardena SIS, in 2016, warned former Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarchchi that a radicalised Muslim youth could attack BBS General Secretary Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera and it could lead to serious issues.

Jayawardena, on November 30, 2016, told Hettiarchchi that special attention should be paid to ensure such an event didn’t take place, the witness said.

"We spoke of Gnanasara Thera often. If something had happened to him there would have been chaos. In 2016, some Islamic extremists circulated images doctored to show some persons wearing ISIS outfits beheading Gnanasara Thera," he said.

Jayawardena said he had been careful when he sent such a report given the nature of the government. There was a possibility of one group in the government getting upset by such reports, Jayawardena said.

"But we are an independent institution and I didn’t act under any political influence. I would never change what my officers on the field gathered. I informed the government about the actions of their own ministers."

During peaching in November 2016, NTJ leader Zahran Hashim had called Gnanasara Thera an enemy of Allah and in a Muslim country Gnanasara thera would be beheaded, hanged, stoned or deported, Zahran had told his followers, the former SIS Director said.

The witness added that a number of Muslim organisations and politicians had refuted claims made by former Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe that 32 Sri Lankan Muslims had joined ISIS in Syria.

The Attorney General’s Department official leading the evidence asked Jayawardena if the claims made by Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe were correct.

A commissioner asked the witness whether he had informed the heads of government that although some people, including ministers were, had objected to Rajapakshe’s statement, there was a serious threat from extremists.

"He said 32. The number we had was 28. We had warned about some fundamentalist Sri Lankan Muslims joining ISIS at least a year ago before Rajapakshe made a statement in Parliament," Jayawardena said.

The Chairman of the PCoI then asked the witness if sharing information about rising Islamic extremism with the public would have helped. "In the case of Zahran, if you had told people they would have been vigilant. People might have given information about Zahran’s whereabouts," the Chairman said.

Jayawardena said that while that was true, it could have also prompted certain extremist elements to create racially motivated attacks. That could have led to more chaos, the witness said.

Chairman of the Commission noted that Jayawardena had sent a significant amount of reports to former Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayaka and questioned why he had done so since the SIS Director had to report to the Defence Secretary.

Jayawardena initially said that he had sent those reports after obtaining the permission of the Defence Secretary and the National Security Council.

"But who asked you to send those reports to Sagala Ratnayaka?" Chairman asked.

"Former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked me to," the witness said.

"Why was it so difficult for you to tell this?" the Chairman asked.

The former SIS Director apologised.

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