Opposition Lawmaker Harin Fernando and his party colleagues created a stir in Parliament on Tuesday (20) when they revealed that “Sonic-Sonic” was a code name used in communications between the Easter Sunday bombers on the messaging app Threema.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) managed to intercept communications between the attackers on the obscure messaging app when they assisted with the initial probe into the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019, opposition lawmakers said.
For months, opposition MPs have been hinting about the involvement of Sri Lankan high level intelligence operatives in the April 2019 bombings that killed 269 people.
More recently, opposition MPs including Manusha Nanayakkara and Anura Kumara Dissanayake have referenced a connection between the Easter Sunday conspirators and Lankan intelligence personnel in Malaysia. During his speech several weeks ago, Dissanayake also referred to the same second Zahran from Matale, in the context of his links to the security apparatus of Sri Lanka.
But Tuesday’s explosive statement marks the very first time the Opposition has directly alluded to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s State Intelligence Services Chief, Major General Suresh Sallay.
Fernando talked about the arrest of “Matale Zahran”, the second Zahran who has been the subject of discussion in recent weeks, as suspicions have grown about links between the security establishment and the bombers.
“He was referred to as “Little Zahran”, Fernando explained about Zahran II. It was in Little Zahran’s intercepted communications that the Code Name “Sonic-Sonic” had repeatedly appeared. Yet Matale Zahran had never been summoned to testify before the Easter Sunday Commission, the Opposition Lawmaker noted.
Fernando alleged that one individual who represents President Gotabaya Rajapaksa controls the country’s entire intelligence apparatus. This individual, Harin Fernando said, had recently taken over the job of the CID, briefing the Attorney General on the Easter Sunday attackers.
Maj. Gen. Sallay recently met with AG Dappula De Livera, to convince him that the persons arrested in connection with the bombings that the government had “decided” were masterminds and the real perpetrators. It is unprecedented for an SIS Chief to directly involve himself in a criminal investigation. But President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa already broke with precedent when he appointed a major general from the army to head the SIS which is an arm of the Police Department.
“If you want to find out who the mastermind of the Easter bombings is, remember that it is this person,” Fernando said, careful not to mention the SIS Chief by name.
From 2017-2019, Sallay functioned as Defence Attache at the Sri Lankan High Commission in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. During the same period, former Colombo Mayor turned die-hard Gotabaya loyalist A.J.M Muzammil was appointed as High Commissioner to Malaysia by President Maithripala Sirisena.
During the debate on the Easter Sunday Attacks in Parliament in March 2021, JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake repeatedly alluded to a Malaysian dimension to the bombing conspiracy, including calls to a certain mobile telephone from one of the overseas terror suspects who reportedly managed to get ISIS to take responsibility for the attacks. “Who did that mobile telephone number in Malaysia belong to,” Dissanayake said, dangling a tantalizing question he obviously knew the answer to but was not at liberty to say. [See video here]
MI intervention to remove intelligence officer from CID custody
Harin Fernando also revealed based on testimony provided to the Presidential Commission on the Easter attacks that an intelligence officer arrested in connection with the bombings had been whisked away into the custody of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) before a statement could be recorded by police. When they took the arrested officer from CID custody, military intelligence officials had said the suspect was “one of their projects,” said the SJB MP in his explosive speech.
Investigations by former CID Director Shani Abeysekara had revealed that the suspect had had discussions with at least one suspect involved in the attack, according to Fernando. He said the connection between the bombers and the intelligence officer had been traced through an IP address.
Fernando insisted he was basing his revelations on the testimony of Chief Inspector Sampath Kumara Senaratne, formerly Officer In Charge of the CID’s Digital Forensic Laboratory which revealed details about the arrest of the intelligence officer and his removal from CID custody by the DMI, had not been included in the Commission Report. CI Senaratne’s testimony had been heard and recorded by lawyers and observers present at the Commission sittings, he explained. “I challenge the Government to make public all of the testimony provided to the Commission, if they accuse me of lying about this,” an insistent Fernando said.
Omissions by the Janak Silva Commission on Easter bombings
The omission of CI Senaratne’s testimony and its failure to pursue the line of inquiry and summon so-called masterminds of the attacks to testify, raises deep questions about the conduct of the Commission itself.
The Presidential Commission led by now Supreme Court Justice Janak De Silva was appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena. The Presidential Commission was meant to be a 9/11 style broad inquisition, that would uncover the motive and modus operandi of the terror attacks and precisely identify the security failures that led to their success.
Similarly, there is no indication so far that evidence provided in camera by the wife of Zahran had been included in the report. Opposition MPs charged that her testimony was considered so sensitive that her evidence had been recorded in-camera. Colombo Telegraph previously reported that her evidence had indicated her husband’s funds and handlers were part of a state security network.
Thirdly, the statement made by former IGP Pujith Jayasundara before the Presidential Commission on the Easter attacks, that the sole surviving member of the suicide bomber squad had made a phone call to a military intelligence officer 20 minutes before detonating himself was never investigated further by the Commission.
Justice Janak Silva’s commission failed to call for the phone data records of the failed Taj Samudra bomber from law enforcement following IGP Jayasundera’s statement and did not appear to take any further action to determine the identity of the intelligence officer the bomber had spoken with on April 19 2019 shortly before he blew himself up at an inn in Dehiwala. It is unclear whether the Commission ever questioned high ranking Military Intelligence Officers about the alleged phone call. Certainly, no further evidence or investigation of Jayasundera’s claim was recorded in the Commission report.
Fernando’s speech, during which he wore a signature black shawl to express solidarity with the victims of the Easter bombings, was repeatedly interrupted by ruling party back-benchers who appeared desperate to prevent the revelations being entered into the Hansard of Parliament.
See full video:
A vicious back and forth ensued, with Fernando referring to the SLPP back-benchers as donkeys, and the ruling party members retorting with allegations about Fernando’s personal life.
SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara followed up with further revelations in Parliament on Tuesday. He said the FBI intercepts had also revealed that the bombers had referred to a particular individual as “the Boss” and claimed that the delays in carrying out the attack plans were upsetting “the Boss”.
Nanayakkara charged that as a Government that had gained power on a wave of shock and sorrow over the Easter Sunday bombings, the SLPP administration was duty-bound to reveal the truth to the people of Sri Lanka about who was behind these attacks.
See full video of Manusha Nanayakkara’s speech here.
A few weeks ago, the Government said that they had “decided” on the mastermind of the Easter Sunday bombings. They declared Naufer Moulawi as the mastermind. Naufer Moulawi was never even brought before the Presidential Commission to testify. There is no way to even explain how exactly he masterminded the attacks.
I must make some revelations today. If you oppose the things I am exposing, then I say to you that you are against the truth coming out.
It was Shani Abeysekera who first discovered a person involved in the Easter Sunday attacks by tracing him using an IP address. It was found that this person was in discussions with the intelligence services. My statement is based on testimony provided before the Presidential Commission on the Easter Sunday attacks. This testimony was heard and recorded by all the lawyers present at the hearings, but the evidence was never recorded as part of the Commission report.
When the intelligence officer involved in the discussions was identified and arrested by the CID, the Military Intelligence division said he was “one of their projects” and removed him from CID custody. All of this is testimony recorded before the Easter Sunday Commission.
Honourable Speaker, I am urging that all of the evidence recorded before the Commission on the Easter Sunday attacks is made public.
What has happened to the CID today? In the CID alone, four directors have been transferred. Scores of CID officers have also been transferred. I can list them out for you. They are:
SP Jayasinghe, Tissera, Kalanasiri, Lokuhetty, Ranjith Wedasinghe;
ASPs Nuwan Asanka and W B Darshika Kumari;
WCI Hella Udage, WCI Niroshini Hewapathirana, WCI Deepani Menike;
Chief Inspectors Keerthisinhe, Allepola, Wijesinghe.
Where are these officers? All of them have been transferred. These are the CID officers who investigated the Easter Sunday attacks – and all of them have been transferred. Four days after the presidential elections Shani Abeysekera who led the investigations was transferred and made into a peon. Then the Government put him in jail. When the lead investigator in the Easter bombings is in jail, when all the CID officers who investigated the attacks have been transferred – the question must be asked – what the hell is the Government trying to hide?
Hon Speaker. There was a Matale Zaharan. He was referred to as “little Zahran”. There was a code he used in communications called “Sonic-Sonic”
This testimony was provided to the Commission by CI Senaratne, Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Digital Forensics Division of the CID. CI Keerthisinghe also provided evidence about Matale Zahran who he arrested. Matale Zaharan is still in custody. Naufer Moulawi who the Government claims is the mastermind of the Easter Sunday attack is also in custody. So why on earth were their statements not recorded before the Easter Commission? But he is apparently the master-mind. Who is the Government trying to fool?
Let’s talk about Sonic-Sonic. In ISIS Ali Bagdadi accepts responsibility for the attacks. Why was all this testimony concealed?
(POINT OF ORDER)
This Government has a vested interest in concealing the truth. What I am revealing is based on testimony before the Easter Sunday Commission.
The Government naturally does not like us talking about this because we are exposing what they are doing to the Sri Lankan police force and the intelligence services.
When Zahran’s wife gave evidence before the Presidential Commission on the Easter Attacks, the whole press corps was removed from the hearings. Her testimony was provided in-camera. What was in this evidence? There are huge questions about her testimony and what it contained.
Based on FBI intercepts on the bombers communications in the Threema App, we learned that the bombers split into two groups before attacks and operated out of two safe houses in Panadura and Ja-ela. In their communications, they discuss delays in carrying out the attacks. The messages claim someone referred to as “The Boss” is unhappy about the delay.” Now what the Government has to tell the people is who is this person the bombers are referring to as the Boss?
A Government that came to power on the tears of the Easter attack has a duty to reveal this. (By Janakie Mediwake)