By Rusiripala Tennakoon –
The public engrossment and the focus on the COI, appointed to inquire into, investigate and report on the Easter Sunday attack (21st April ,2019) is becoming more intensified. Following the tabling of the Report in Parliament, political parties have started their usual bickering accusing each other and debating trivialities. Those who have been held accountable and responsible for the various lapses, derelictions and failures on their part in the discharge of their public duty are frantically attempting to exculpate themselves by pointing a finger at the COI with conceited evasiveness. Those at the helm of affairs are trying to further consolidate their power, by applying pressure tactics on such desolate, elements.
Finally, we have those genuinely concerned yearning for fair play, justice and redress on behalf of the victims, interested in the establishment of a more dependable and strong national security to enable the people to live in peace.
Out of the individuals and organizations and officials named in the COI report with punitive actions recommended, the SLFP appears to be worse affected. It’s leader Maithripala Sirisena was the President and the Defence Minister during the period of the attack. The report pinpoints and attributes specific Accountability to President Sirisena and has concluded as follows.
“Based on the evidence, the COI is of the view that there is a criminal liability on his part for the acts or omissions as explained. The COI recommends that the Attorney General consider instituting criminal proceedings against President Sirisena under any suitable provision in the Penal Code”
The SLFP has started a campaign against the findings of the COI and the new General Secretary of the Party, State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara is reported publicly accusing that “the COI report is a political report”. This highly ludicrous position is considered as a lame excuse presented to the public and their party stalwarts in order to diffuse the manifesting antipathy against Sirisena on account of the inefficiencies and gross derelictions by him, disclosed in no-uncertain terms in the COI report. The stratagem looks like a delirious attempt in the resurrection of ‘Humpty- Dumpty’! SLFP needs more vigor and experienced hands to put together things.
Distinctive interests of these groups manifest in various forms such as;
* Looking for a master mind of the attack ostensibly with the aim of confusing the issues
* Fishing in troubled waters for political mileage
* Attempts to Exculpate and inculpate
While those with genuine concerns will be mindful of;
* Reasonable redress and justification for the victims,
* Preventive actions to secure future national security and peace,
* Exposure of local elements responsible for extremist and fanatic ideologies,
* Penalize any back players who act as god fathers to advocate and promote violence,
In this back ground let us now take a look at the COI report highlights relevant to these issues;
Many of the quoted excerpts (volume 1) below are that would help us to dispel speculations and suppositions harbored by those deluded under the influence of interested propagandists with ulterior motives.
COI has clarified their role and the limitations as follows;
Page 6 “……we have been asked to investigate and inquire into and report on and to draw such conclusions and inferences as are permitted by law from such facts which have been established by reliable evidence. …. We will not make findings on the basis of suspicion, surmise or speculation….”
This provides an answer to various comments, remarks and criticisms made by people including those with vested interests. Some of the views expressed are so ridiculous going beyond credibility levels. We heard one political party leader going public in media accusing the COI for not reporting on brassieres, under-wears and kotththu, widely opined in certain quarters sometime back as steps taken by religious fanatics to induce infertility in women!
The talk about a Master Mind who either instigated or influenced Zaharan
The suicide bomber Zaharan has been identified as the king pin of the April 21st operation and the events leading to it. By 2009, Zaharan had embraced Whhabism which is an extremist ideology related to Islam. He has started preaching against the traditional Muslims giving his own interpretations based on the Holy Quran and Hadith. He established an organization called National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) on 15th December , 2015 and registered it as a Social Service Organization in Kattankudy Divisional Secretary’s area.
“……..Zaharan was identified as an extremist around 2009………” page 81
“Between Feb .2013 and Oct,2014, members of a Sufi group of Muslims, lodged 11 complaints against Zaharan and his NTJ at the Kattankudy Police Station………..”ibid
“Late Alavi Moulana had made a statement that there is an armed organization named Wahhabis operating in the Eastern Province……..”ibid
Muslim Organizations in the Eastern province in 2014, had complained to the command of the Security Forces there that they were being threatened by other Muslim groups identified by them as terrorist groups including NTJ. Security command had summoned and warned Zaharan.
“Zaharan and his group actively canvassed for President Maithreepala Sirisena and his party at the presidential elections held in January 2015” page 83.
“It appears that Zaharan’s group tacitly supported the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress at the Parliamentary elections held in August 2015…..” page 84
There had been clashes between the supporters of M.L.A.M.Hisbullah and NTJ group supporters of Zaharan. In one such attack Rilwan, a supporter of NTJ was injured and hospitalized.
“Around 2016, Zaharan started posting posts similar to IS ideology justifying brutal acts of the IS such as killing of non-muslims. Zaharan referred to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the IS as a descendent of Prophet Mohamed………”
Towards the end of 2016 Zaharan has continued his sermons and lectures levelling accusations against statements made by Buddhist organizations for condemning Muslim extremism making highly provocative statements to the effect that if such statements are made in a Islamic State, the punishment would have been beheading, hanging, stoning or exile. He delivered sermons explaining that Prophet Mohamed established an Islamic State by taking the sword and waging war and killing enemies. These acts and statements of Zaharan indicate that he was acting with an ideological conviction which he himself took leadership in influencing his followers.
“He went on to state that Muslims should wage war and that he (ZAHARAN)is not afraid to die and that he should also die after waging war. (page 86-87) the video has been shared in the you tube.”
The COI states , “these public pronouncements indicate that Zaharan had progressed to violent extremism by end of 2016…..” page 87
In March 2017 Zaharan and his NTJ group were publicly clashing with other traditional Muslims, with some incidents leading to altercations between groups attacking them with swords. Several were arrested by the police.
Following excerpts from the COI report show the gradual progression of Zaharan’s mind set, building towards an attack mode.
“On 27th March 2017, Muslim organizations complained against Zaharan to the President’s Office, Prime Ministers Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Law and Orde, State ministry of Defense, Attorney general, IGP and the TID.” Page 89
Zaharan believed and preached that there is no room for democracy in an Islamic State and that only jihad, jisya and Shariya law can exist.
COI report states that “ these pronouncements of Zaharan are a clear indication that for him ,there cannot be any other religion or democracy in an Islamic state…..” He also pronounced that …. “ to die on behalf of God is a privilege and that all the sins are forgiven of a person who dies on behalf of Islam…” page 95
Zaharan went on to state that the shortest way to heaven is to perform jihad in order to establish the sovereignty of Allah. Page 99
According to witness Hadiya,“Zaharan has referred to a group who had given a pledge for Zaharan as the leader in Sri Lanka and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadhi as the leader in Syria.” Page 99
“on 15th September 2018 Zaharan released a video claiming that jihad will be launched in the near future against non-Muslims …….He went on to state that revenge will be taken for every drop of blood shed as a result of attacks targeting Muslims and that in the near future there will be a dangerous war and that soon the day will dawn where Muslim youth will take up swords against non-Muslims chanting Allahu Akabar (god is graet). He went on to state that the roads will be drenched in blood and threat Muslims will perform jihad fearlessly facing the attacks of the kafirs” -page 108
These findings by the COI prove that he was the assumed leader of this movement in Sri Lanka and he was at the helm of affairs including decision making.
Now let us focus our attention to the Chapter 19 of the COI report on ACCOUNTABILITY.
According to evidence given before the COI by President Sirisena himself, he was aware of the threat of IS activity in the region and his duty to monitor those was an important role he had to play in its prevention. COI has highlighted the following observations in this regard:
* The NSC meetings that used to be held on a regular basis weekly, prior to 2015 under the chairmanship of the President, were not held regularly since Sirisena assumed duties as the President. During certain months it has not been held at all while in some instances it was held once in two weeks.
* During the highly critical period before April 2019 attack, ironically not a single meeting of the NSC has not been held in March 2019.
* Serious contradictions are apparent in the position taken by President Sirisena regarding his previous knowledge about the build up of the IS ideology in Sri Lanka specially under the leadership of Zaharan. He tried to maintain that he was put on notice about this only in January 2019 but the COI through documentary evidence put to him got him to admit that he was notified by the authorities long before and pointed out Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s Statement made in Parliament on 17th Nov 2016 and the report submitted to NSC by Nilantha Jayawardane, Director national Intelligence, on 30th November 2017. President Sirisena admitted both.
“it was in evidence that Director SIS nilantha jayawardane had made several presentations to the NSC on IS and Zaharan and his group” page 252.
* In the most recent period prior to the April attack President Sirisena was adequately notified by the Security officials about the preparations by terrorist organizations to induce their supporters to launch the attack.
“in the Monthly Threat Forecast for January 2019 prepared by the institute of national Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) for the President only, it is recommended that the group behind Wanathawilluwa arms and explosives cache should be investigated to find if there is a connection to foreign extremist groups and if that is the case, the Government and the MOD should take it as a serious threat to national security of Sri Lanka.” – Page 257
President Sirisena has admitted in his evidence that the SIS and DMI briefed him about Islamic extremism in Sri Lanka.
I wish to close this reference with the following extract from the COI report. Page 257.
“therefore the COI observes that President Sirisena had prior knowledge ,at least from November 2016,of the activities of Zaharan. However, he contended that at no time was the NSC informed that Zaharan was a terrorist. But it is clear that there was no reason to doubt that Zaharan was a terrorist prior to the Easter attack when he was clearly advocating the IS ideology which is admittedly terrorist in nature”
“however, the COI observes that the action taken by President Sirisena falls short of the duties and responsibilities placed upon him as Executive President and Minister of Defence” page 259
Under accountability the COI report has named the following as responsible for failure to pre-determine that a terrorist and extremist activities of this nature would take place within the country and to ascertain matters incidental to it and who failed or neglected to take action according to law and not taking proper actions in this regard.
1. President Maithripala Sirisena
2. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
3. Secretary Defence Hemasiri Fernando
4. CNI Sisira Mendis
5. Director SIS Nilantha Jayawardena
Names of several others including Officials, Authorities and Politicians belonging to the Yahapalana regime are included in the COI report holding them responsible for several offences including failure to prevent terrorist attacks of 21st April and failed to perform their duties, and aiding and abetting Zaharan Group to evade and prevent their arrest etc.etc.
It is pathetic to note the public statements made by some who have been held responsible to exculpate themselves. Some have started to point the finger at terrorist attacks taken place in other countries claiming that if they could not prevent such attacks in those countries, there is no sin in their own negligence and dereliction of duties to stop something, although previously cautioned about, in no-uncertain details.
Country awaits justice. Big or Small those held responsible have to be punished. The hunt for so called imaginary utopian masterminds should be regarded as red-herrings, and not deviate from the process of punishing the already identified sinners. Ordinary citizens should not be made to expiate for others’ sins.