By Lal Wickrematunge –
Why did five men attempt a robbery at Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema‘s house at Dickmans Road, Bambalapitiya on the 24th morning of August? A cursory glance at Mandana’s residence by any sane person could raise many interesting questions. The Ismail Abeywickrema residence, is in fact the last house any would be robber would enter, on Dickmans Road, if they wanted to carry away the biggest booty.It is also the most austere residence along this road. The residence seem to say “come and get anything from this house if it’s of any value”.
It is a well known fact that Mandana, the Associate Editor of the Sunday Leader does work each week through Friday till 2 or 3 am of Saturday to put the paper to bed. This fateful week she had finished earlier than usual or curtailed her work to get home well before that time. The Associate Editor’s father had returned home around mid night, noticed some men hovering around nearby, but had not given it much thought. The house settles down for the night though Romesh, Mandana’s husband is yet at Havelocks Sports Club, his watering hole, which is at the lower end of this road.
The would be robbers, enter the premises over the rear wall and use an implement to remove an iron bar of a window adjacent to the room in which the senior Ismail sleeps, to gain entry. Or so it is assumed at this point in time. This house has a three and a half foot front wall secured by a very old grilled iron gate. The front door and windows are wood paneled with frosted glass panes that could easily be prised open. The time is around 2.30 am on Saturday. Mandana is half asleep in an ante room. Mandana’s mother and ten year old daughter CK are asleep in a room leading off senior Ismail’s room. The criminals armed with knives and a sword prowl around with the help of a torch light before holding senior Ismail at knife point. The lights are put on and they proceed to hold Mandana at knife point. Negotiations begin with Mandana agreeing to give whatever valuables provided none of the family, are harmed.
At this point another from the group proceed to hold her mother and daughter at knife point which leads to Mandana pleading that the verbal agreement reached with them should be honoured. The criminals go on to break open all the steel cabinets and wardrobes and scatter all belongings in a random fashion. They pay special attention to paperwork. By now they have used items of clothing to cover their faces by tying them around like a bandana. Mandana’s rings are whisked off and the criminals look for the only jewellery in the house which belongs to Mrs Ismail.
One of the criminals whispers to Mandana, ” the problem is because we are two groups”, when she pleads that the inmates should not be harmed. One criminal has spoken to Mandana in english. ” Don’t shout”, he said, later another says that she is the problem and they have to take her. Interesting.
Time ticks by. The criminals have been in the house for over one and a half hours!!! One criminal’s cellular phone rings. He moves away to answer out of earshot of Mandana. Around 3.45am Romesh arrives at his home and finds a few lights on in the house and the side gate opened. Finding this unusual he proceeds to peer through the side gate to find the side door leading to the hall adjoining senior Ismail’s room opened and signs of some activity. His suspicions aroused Romesh hurries out through the front gate and calls the Police Emergency.
It takes more that twenty minutes for a Tata cab with five Policemen to arrive at the scene. One of them is armed with a pistol.being apprised of the situation the policemen fan out to surround the house. One of them goes in through the open side door to be attacked by a criminal and falls down in the hall. Another policeman grabs the pistol from his fallen comrade shoots at the criminal who shouts “Police, Police” and runs into the interior of the house. Romesh, standing outside could hear the sounds of the window and door panels being shattered. The criminals were attempting to get away through the front entrance. Finding that exiting through the front being difficult one runs back towards the rear and is shot repeatedly. Meanwhile, Mandana has closed the door to her room as her mother had done so already.
One criminal, fatally wounded in three places falls down whilst the other four flee in different directions. By now the Police have got in their back up men and they move swiftly to cordon off the area to apprehend the four who have fled. Two were caught on a rooftop trying to conceal themselves. One was caught in the front garden by a Policeman who wrestled with the criminal before arresting him. He whispers something to the Policeman and Romesh, who was watching this fracas took a photo of the criminal only to be ordered by the Policeman to delete it. The fifth criminal was arrested shortly thereafter. Game, Set but not the match yet.
The Police rush the fatally injured man along with others to the General Hospital.The doctors pronounce him dead. He had a glancing injury to the side of his head, one through the waist and another to the lower abdomen, which shot caused his death.Identification of the five perpetrators does not take long. The Police finds two of them with military background. Three of them were brothers of which one was military trained.
It was ironic to find the injured Policemen and the criminals being treated side by side in the General Hospital. One perpetrator confessed that a three wheel driver who plied for the Abeywickreme’s time and again, had given them the contract. Far fetched, but maybe true to some extent. Further investigation will/may bring out the entire story.
Mandana, did her best to continue writing in the same vein that the Leader of yore was reputed for, through her political column. She had recently pioneered a Union for Journalists. One of the objects of this Union was to protect Journalists.
The call by Romesh, brought the Police Emergency to his door. They did not know who, why nor wherefore of the criminals.They reacted according to their training. Full marks to the five Policemen who are now to be decorated by the IGP.
What gave confidence to the criminals to spend over two hours in the house? Unusual behaviour. Why did they not grab whatever they could and leave? From where did a grenade appear by the rear wall? Why did they not keep it with them? When was it found by the Police? Did someone introduce the grenade later? Why did they not look out for Romesh who may have returned any moment from the time they gained entry? What would have been the outcome had Romesh not returned at that time and made the call to the Police?
Suspicions will arise as The Sunday Leader and her staff have been repeatedly attacked, property destroyed and the founding Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge killed. None have been solved thus far, including the murder. If the Police did not open fire, apprehend the suspects in the act, this too would have been C3 ( accused unknown in Police jargon).