The head of the State Intelligence Service Major General Suresh Sallay has lodged an official complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department, demanding criminal proceedings against Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, a Catholic priest who has been at the forefront of a global campaign to demand justice for victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.
The complaint marks the first public reprisal against the Catholic clergy in Sri Lanka. However, Colombo Telegraph learns that the SIS had already deployed officers to infiltrate Catholic parishes in Sri Lanka. The intelligence agency is also using paid informants to observe and report on the movements of prominent members of the Catholic clergy. Sources told Colombo Telegraph that ever since the Cardinal and his band of priests made it clear that they suspect a hidden political hand behind the Easter terror attacks, the SIS has placed the mobile telephones of leading clergymen under direct surveillance.
Colombo Telegraph learns that the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration’s Pegasus surveillance operation has also targeted Catholic priests and other community leaders, as accusations against the Government have mounted from this quarter.
Remarkably, protests are erupting worldwide, with Sri Lanka’s Christian diaspora and Catholic clergy taking to the streets demanding action against the true perpetrators of the 2019 Easter bombings. Two and half years have passed since the terror attacks that killed 269 people. The attacks propelled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to power on pledges that he would strengthen national security and deliver justice to the victims.
In October 2021, two well-attended webinars were held by the Global Forum for Justice for Easter Sunday victims. Both events were chaired by the head of the Catholic church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. At the first webinar, Father Cyril Gamini Fernando was seated beside the Cardinal as he made a lengthy presentation regarding questions, doubts and facts pertaining to the Easter Sunday attacks in April 2019.
His remarks appear to have irked Sallay, who featured prominently in the presentation. Father Cyril Gamini pointed out that the NTJ and Zaharan Hashim who is believed to have led the terror cell, had been intelligence operatives nurtured by the Directorate of Military Operations led by then Brigadier Suresh Sallay until 2015. The NTJ’s links to state intelligence agencies is well established. For years, these links to intelligence prompted law enforcement agencies and intelligence officers to ignore repeated warnings from the Muslim community in areas like Kattankudy about the extremist tenor of Zaharan’s preaching and the activities of the NTJ. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa famously admitted in 2019 that his Government had paid NTJ for intelligence.
In his complaint to the CID, Major General Sallay vehemently denied allegations about his handling of Zahran Hashim and noted that the objective of the priest’s claims was to mislead the public, tarnish his reputation and put him and his family in harm’s way. Sallay says he never communicated with Zahran Hashim or his followers. He has demanded that the CID institutes legal action against Father Cyril Gamini Fernando as well as others who attended the online forum.
At the second webinar held on October 24, Cardinal Ranjith read out excerpts from a handwritten letter delivered to him from His Holiness Pope Francis. The letter was written in Italian, and contained messages of solidarity, support and concern over the facts pertaining to the Easter Sunday bombings as revealed to the Vatican by the Sri Lanka priests and his own Papal Envoy in Colombo.
The Cardinal read out relevant excerpts from Pope Francis, which stated: “Cardinal Bagnasco has handed over to me your letter of last August 24 in which you explained to me about the ugly situation and that the reality of April 21, 2019, remains without clarity to the public. Also in the last few days, a message has arrived from the nunciature in which the same facts were recounted. I promise to pray more and remain ready to do whatever you consider opportune. Tomorrow I will speak with the secretary of state about it,” the letter said. “Please count on me and indicate what would be best to be done from here,” Pope Francis’ letter said.
Maj.Gen Suresh Sallay has been in the spotlight in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks, after SJB MP Harin Fernando famously exposed the existence of an individual code-named “Sonic-Sonic” in communications between the Easter Sunday bombers. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and his brother priests are demanding that the Government investigate allegations swirling about an entity called “Sonic” and probe links exposed at the Presidential Commission on the Easter attacks between the terrorists and Sri Lankan state intelligence officials. MP Fernando’s remarks in Parliament enraged the SIS Chief, who ordered his immediate arrest. Fernando escaped prolonged detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act because he was hospitalized suddenly with a cardiac ailment. Subsequent to his release from hospital MP Fernando’s home was raided by the police in breach of his parliamentary privilege.
Questions have been raised regarding Sallay’s intrusions into investigations into the terror attacks, including his “updates” about the probe to the Attorney General and efforts to guide the CID investigations. Sallay has also met members of the Catholic clergy to “clarify” matters regarding the current investigations into the bombings.
Colombo Telegraph also learns that Major General Sallay, who has tremendous influence within the security establishment, is also behind the 18-month effort to link attorney-at-law Hejaaz Hizbullah to the Easter Sunday bombings to satiate a personal grudge against the incarcerated lawyer.