Top defence official in Sri Lanka admits failure, resigns


Colombo: A foreign investigator (centre) talks to priests as soldiers stand guard at 
St Anthony’s Shrine on Thursday.—AFP
Colombo: A foreign investigator (centre) talks to priests as soldiers stand guard at St Anthony’s Shrine on Thursday.—AFP

COLMOBO: Four days after the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka left hundreds of people dead, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando tendered his resignation on Thursday.

President Maithripala Sirisena had on Tuesday called for the resignation of the defence secretary and IGP Pujith Jaya­sun­dara after it was revealed that Sri Lankan authorities had received foreign intelligence warnings three times on April 4.

Fernando came under public condemnation when he declared after the blasts it was impossible to protect all the churches of Sri Lanka and admitting to intelligent reports of an attack declared that an att­ack of ‘such magnitude’ was not expected.

Although Sri Lanka suffered 30 years of war, the country was never prepared for the kind of terror that hit it on Sunday when nine suicide blasts ripped through different locations for which the militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Several arrests made, refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan fearing reprisals move to mosques, police stations

The death toll given by the police, 359, was revised by the health ministry on Thursday, reducing the number almost by 100, to 253.

Intelligence sources confirmed that upper class, highly educated and globally well-travelled Sri Lankan Muslims were linked to the attacks and that eight suicide bombers had been identified as Sri Lankans. Their links with international terrorist groups such as the IS are being investigated.

According to police sources, 60 people are in detention while 38 being interrogated by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

On Wednesday, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene declared that the National Tawheed Jamaat (NTJ) had been assisted by an splinter group in Sunday’s bombing in the districts of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.

Maulvi Mohammad Zaran Hashmi is believed to have motivated and masterminded the bombings, though he is suspected to have broken away from the NTJ and founded another extremist outfit.

According to sources, around eight mosques out of 63 in Kathandkudy allegedly follow the fundamentalist militant ideology openly.

Meanwhile, the Sufi Muslims said they had received warnings by the CID that their mosques and shrines of saints might be subjected to attack.

Sufi leader H.M. Ameer of the Badriya Jumma Mosque of Kathankudy said that in 2017 he had sought a court action against Zaran’s extremism.

“The Sufis have been consistently persecuted,” Ameer told Dawn, while speaking of the rising Salafi ideology in Sri Lanka. However, he said that in the Eastern Province only 150 people had been following Zaran.

Island-wide security checks continued to be carried out at the highest level on Thursday and a lorry suspected to have been registered under the name of the suicide bomber of Shangri La Hotel was seized about 10km from Colombo in the Wattala area, a day after at least two unidentified motorcycles and several parcels were destroyed by bomb disposal squads.

In a search operation on Thursday in Mutwal just outside of Colombo at least three people were arrested with explosives and swords and public assistance was sought for the arrest of two women and three men suspected to have been associated with the carnage. On suspicion of possible air attacks use of drones was banned.

On Thursday, the island nation’s main Islamic cleric association, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), stated that they would not accept the bodies of those who carried out the attacks. The organisation said they ‘vehemently condemned’ the attacks, declaring that there was no place for terrorism in Islam and that in the history of Sri Lankan Muslims nobody had ever partaken in such a violent act.

“Those who committed this barbaric attack on innocent civilians do not belong to us. Hence we categorically state that we will not accept their bodies,” the ACJU said. The organisation promised to provide security to Christians and Catholic churches during Sunday services.

Meanwhile, the High Commission of Pak­is­tan in a statement said that no Pakis­tani had been accused of being linked to the terrorist attacks carried out last week in Sri Lanka and that the seven Pakistanis detained by the Lankan police was on account of overstaying their visas.

Separately, sources confirmed that hundreds of refugees from Pakistan and Afgh­a­n­istan living in Negombo, where one of the attacks occu­rred, have taken refuge in mosques and police stations after being asked by the owners of their rented houses to leave. Many families left Negombo of their own accord.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019