By Niresh Eliatamby –
When a dozen suicide bombers massacred 260 innocents on Easter Sunday, the nation was stunned. The attack had come out of nowhere. Within hours, the President, Prime Minister, State Minister for Defence and the Opposition Leader all emphatically announced that they had had no warning from anybody about the impending calamity. The top brass of the armed forces also seemed all at sea.
But that story is fast falling apart and into the realms of children’s fairytales, now isn’t it?
The IGP’s revelations in court documents that the Police Department had been prevented for more than a year by the State Intelligence Service from continuing investigations into international terrorist groups operating in Sri Lanka, is only the latest shocker. The SIS reported directly to the President. The IGP, who says he passed on the information of the impending attacks to all his senior officers, also complained that he had not been allowed to attend meetings of the National Security Committee since last October, the same story that the PM and the State Minister have repeated.
A few days earlier, the head of the National Intelligence Service told a Parliamentary Committee that he had forwarded warnings by Indian Intelligence to the Ministry of Defense (which is headed by the President), and the Police (which also comes under the President). He also noted that he spoke about the matter at a National Security Council meeting in early April, but claimed that the matter had not been given due prominence.
However, the heads of the armed services and their own intelligence chiefs were supposedly at that meeting, so they did get to know of this warning, which is not the story we had heard up to last week.
So to recap, we have so far heard from top officials in the police and intelligence that the following people had some knowledge of the threat, more than a week before the attacks – the Defense Ministry, the IGP, all the top brass of the police, heads of the two main intelligence services, heads of armed services, heads of the armed forces’ intelligence wings, and goodness knows how many others including the father of a Cabinet Minister!
Meanwhile, a plethora of politicians and clergy of many faiths are charging that the terrorist groups were aided and abetted, or at the very least shielded from investigation, by several Provincial Governors, Chief Ministers, etc.
The only people who don’t seem to have known anything about the dastardly plot were the general public, including clergy, churchgoers, hotel staff and tourists. That’s because we were deemed unimportant and unworthy of being told by all those who knew. Oh, and of course the President, PM, State Minister for Defence and the Opposition Leader say they didn’t know, of course!
The President’s story of ignorance does seem rather shaky considering that so any top officials directly under him knew of the plot. But perhaps he is telling the truth. After all, this is a President who is never ashamed to state that he knew nothing about many things, until he read it in the newspapers. Even news of the Easter Sunday attacks were not communicated to him by any of his officials, but he was told by an acquaintance in Singapore, he said!
As for the PM, State Minister and Opposition Leader, well right now there’s no one saying that they were told. But one must admit that it is extremely strange that they didn’t know, considering how many people did know!
Other recent revelations included the claim by the Head of National Intelligence that there had been no meetings of the National Security Council, which is supposed to meet every fortnight, for more than three months. In fact, when they would have been expected to meet 26 times last year, they had met only eight times, he said. Little wonder that the PM and State Minister weren’t invited to attend since last October, if the meetings were non-existent!
What has been made abundantly clear now is that both our TID and various intelligence services were well aware of the extremist and violent group known as NTJ, and actually had investigations on it spanning more than a year. This included surveillance of NTJ safe-houses and collection of detailed data on members of the NTJ, including some of the suicide bombers.
In this work, our agencies would receive vital assistance from Indian intelligence, which made it very clear that this was an international plot, even though the Sri Lankan aspect of NTJ was homegrown. Our intelligence agencies could also have called for assistance and information from dozens of countries that are actively and covertly fighting IS, Al Qaeda and other global terrorists.
In fact, a fact that everyone on the National Security Council was abundantly aware of is that the Sri Lanka Army has been actively fighting against IS in the Saharan nation of Mali for more than a year now, as part of the 15,000-man United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Mali (officially known as MINUSMA, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali). This impoverished Saharan nation is known mostly for the town of Timbuktu, which is one of its largest cities.
MINUSMA has gained a reputation as the most dangerous United Nations peacekeeping mission in the world at present with nearly 200 peacekeepers killed. Just a few months ago, on 25th January 2019, two of our Sri Lankan soldiers paid the supreme sacrifice when they were killed in action in an ambush blamed on the IS proxy organisations ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahel) and Islamic State in West Africa (Boko Haram), that are fighting terrorist wars in Mali, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Another three Sri Lankan soldiers were wounded.
The SLA contingent in Mali has over 200 soldiers, including several women observers, from a large number of regiments including Sri Lanka Light Infantry (SLLI), Sri Lanka Armoured Corps (SLAC), Sri Lanka Engineers (SLE), Sri Lanka Signal Corps (SLSC), Mechanized Infantry Regiment (MIR), Sri Lanka Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (SLEME), Sri Lanka Army Service Corps (SLASC), Sri Lanka Army Ordnance Corps (SLAOC), Corps of Engineer Services (CES) and members of the Sri Lanka Army Medical Corps (SLAMC).
Thus, it is indeed incredible that Sri Lanka’s President, government and top brass, who have committed the lives of hundreds of our soldiers to keep the peace in a country thousands of miles away that is of little importance to Sri Lanka, and most Sri Lankans haven’t even heard of, would so flippantly provide every opportunity for an associated group of IS, the NTJ, to wreak havoc here at home.
That NTJ was allowed to operate freely in Sri Lanka for many years has now been well and truly established. The question that is yet unanswered is why?