Even as the Island Nation mourns the death of more than 250 people following bomb blasts that turned Easter Sunday bloody, claims that warnings and signals received ahead of the tragedy were ignored are beginning to shake the very establishment in Sri Lanka.
Suggestions have been made over the past ten days that terrorist activities have been ‘active’ for some time and that the intelligence apparatus failed in its job.
Prime Minister in the dark
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the BBC during an interview on Sunday (April 28) that he was out of the loop, meaning that he was not informed of any warnings that the State-run Intelligence Services many have received.
He said that crucial information about any potential danger in the country was not passed to him; the blasts exposed a massive intelligence failure by Sri Lanka.
Soon after he spoke, Sri Lankan Police said that bodies of 15 people including six children were found after an explosion at a suspected Islamist militant hideout in East Sri Lanka. Among them were three women, believed to be family members of the suspected militants.
According to one source, an explosion followed by gunfire over several hours and that clashes took place in Sainthamaruthu, not far from the home town of the suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday suicide attacks.
Top officials resign
Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, Sri Lanka’s top police official and bureaucrat Hemasiri Fernando, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence resigned, apparently accepting responsibility for security lapses.
But Mr Wickremesinghe argued that he was unaware of the warnings meant he did not need to step down from his position.
“If we had any inkling, and we had not taken action, I would have handed in my resignation immediately. But what do you do when you are out of the loop?”
President Maithripala Sirisena said that Sri Lankan intelligence services believed that about 130 suspects linked to the Islamic State (IS) group were in the country and that Police were hunting 70 who were still at large.
Police later discovered what they believed was the attackers’ safe house in the Eastern City of Sammanthurai. An IS banner and IS uniform similar to the video that was released by alleged suicide bombers were found inside the building, a Police Spokesperson told BBC.
About 150 sticks of dynamite and 100,000 ball bearings were also found during the raid.
Sri Lankan authorities have blamed a local Islamist extremist group, ‘National Thowheed Jamath’ for the attacks, although IS has also said it was behind them.
Attack ‘Leader’ dies
Mr Sirisena also confirmed that the attackers’ alleged ringleader, Zahran Hashim, a radical preacher, died at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.
He said that Hashim led the attack on the popular tourist hotel, accompanied by a second bomber identified as ‘Ilham.’ It was one of six Hotels and Churches targeted by the group.
The Economist said that the Police, unfortunately, were not as resolute before the attacks.
“For several years, mainstream Muslims have raised the alarm about the spread of extremist views and jihadist cells. Mr Zahran and his hate-filled group, in particular, were believed to be in contact with the few dozen Sri Lankan Muslims known to have joined Islamic State. In December last year, the arrest of suspected Islamist radicals led police to a coconut plantation where a large cache of detonators and explosives was found.”
This lead was apparently not pursued, and some of the suspects were released.
In early April Indian intelligence agents passed on urgent information gleaned from a Tamil-speaking is a prisoner. This detailed ‘on a platter’ the names of suspects, their leader’s location and possible modes of attack, including suicide or truck-bombs.
The note even named the targets as “some important Churches” and, possibly, the Indian High Commission.
- Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (PMO Picture)
- Coffins being lowered in Colombo (AP Picture through www.rnz.co.nz