Slow return to normalcy

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

Three weeks have lapsed since the Easter Sunday explosions struck three churches and three luxury hotels, leaving more than 250 people dead and 450 injured, but many questions about the attacks still remain unanswered.

However, a well-informed police source told The Sunday Morning that a total of 69 suspects had been arrested in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks and were currently being questioning by the CID.

Also, two masterminds were already arrested and all suspects directly involved in the attack were in custody, he said.

Referring to suspicions on the alleged involvement of foreign terror groups in the Easter Sunday attacks, the source said that investigations had not revealed such involvements so far.

Assuring that there would be no attacks in the future, the source further stressed that all the suspects currently in custody were Sri Lankans and that no foreign connections had been revealed so far through interrogations.

Nevertheless, the main question still remains; why couldn’t the authorities avert such a devastating suicide attack?
This, in spite of clues found a few months before the attack, where the Police uncovered explosives hidden in a plot of land used for coconut cultivation in Wanathawilluwa in Puttalam.

The explosives found in Puttalam were not the only clue as there were several other incidents that occurred, including vandalism of Buddha statues in Mawanella.

While investigations further continued and the political blame game began just after the attacks, all the way to the top of the Government, President Maithripala Sirisena assured last week that the situation was now under control as the authorities had already taken 99% of the suspects into custody. Schools reopened, employees returned to work – as can be seen with the increased activity in the cities – and other businesses including hotels and restaurants are beginning to see an upturn.

In the aftermath of the worst terror attack to hit the country in a decade – since the defeat of LTTE – Sri Lankans seem to be well in control of their emotions, bar a few isolated incidents. Part of the credit needs to be given to the religious leaders who handled the situation appropriately in the aftermath, thereby reducing the chances for communal violence.

That being said, as is understandable, these religious leaders and the people of Sri Lanka want the perpetrators to suffer the maximum punishment. The Government was urged to take immediate action to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future by eradicating all forms of terrorism from society.

Police Media Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara told The Sunday Morning that law enforcement authorities were conducting further investigations at present and assured that stern legal action would be taken against the culprits, irrespective of their social status.

The necessary instructions in this regard had already been given to all law enforcement authorities by the President, he said.

SIU probe

Commenting on the release of nine out of 10 employees attached to the copper factory in Wellampitiya – which was owned by Mohamed Ibrahim Inshaq Ahamed, the suicide bomber at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel – who were arrested in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks, SP Gunasekara said the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of Police had launched a probe to determine whether those nine individuals were erroneously released on bail due by the Wellampitiya Police.

The workers were released last week on bail when they were produced before the Colombo Magistrate’s Court. The court had ordered the 10th suspect – Karupiah Rajendran Abdullah – to be remanded until 20 May. It was alleged that those workers were released because the Wellampitiya Police had failed to mention the offences the suspects were alleged to have committed. The nine suspects were released on two sureties of Rs. 500,000 each, owing to insufficient evidence against them.

Maximum action will be taken against the police officers if the investigation carried out by the SIU revealed errors committed by the Wellampitiya Police when granting bail, SP Gunasekara said.

On Friday, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had been granted permission to obtain a blood sample to conduct a DNA test to verify National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) Leader Zahran Hashim’s identity.

Colombo Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake delivered this order after considering a request sought by the CID. The Magistrate had also called for a report on the evidence seized from the residences of the suicide bombers at Kollupitiya and Mount Lavinia, as well as from the room reserved at the Shangri-La Hotel.

The report from the National Gem and Jewellery Authority on the gold jewellery and gems worth nearly Rs. 12.5 million found on the relatives of the suicide bombers currently held in the CID’s custody, had been received by the court. These items had been confiscated.

Mastermind in custody

Elaborating on the progress of the investigations conducted by the law enforcement authorities, President Maithripala Sirisena said one of the masterminds who orchestrated the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka was arrested in Saudi Arabia a few days ago, and that Sri Lankan officials went to Saudi Arabia to escort him back.

During a meeting with the representatives of Muslim civil organisations including the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) at the Presidential Secretariat last week, President Sirisena said: “The suspect arrested in Saudi is one of the masterminds behind the attack. Altogether, we have identified 130-140 suspects involved in this terror group and some of them died on Easter Sunday.”

He said the security concerns had been addressed, the situation in the country was better now, and his Government was doing its best to resolve issues and hindrances faced by the Muslim community at this time and requested them to be patient a little while longer.

“It is false reports that mislead people now. When the Government is trying to make things better, some elements from both the Government and Opposition sides are trying to sabotage our attempts,” he added.

Pressure on politicians

Amid mounting pressure on Muslim political leaders after the attack, they convened a press conference where they requested the public to view the situation from a moderate stance. When asked whether any political connections were revealed during the investigations, the police source noted that so far, no such connections had been revealed.

Meanwhile, former Minister and “Joint Opposition” stalwart S.B. Dissanayake continued his verbal battle with Minister of Commerce and Industry Rishad Bathiudeen yesterday, saying the Government had ample evidence to arrest Bathiudeeen.
He added that a team of “Joint Opposition” members, including him, would urge President Sirisena to direct law enforcement authorities to arrest him immediately.

“We have information to prove that he had close contacts with members of the NTJ and also that he had helped them in their destructive operations. Therefore, we would make representation to request President Sirisena, as the Minister of Defence and Law and Order, to take steps to arrest Minister Bathiudeen,” Dissanayake said.

In the meantime, several hartals were staged in Trincomalee and its suburbs on Friday (10) demanding the removal of Eastern Province Governor M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. The people who staged the hartals accused Governor Hizbullah of spreading terrorism and racism in the country.

Traders closed shops in Trincomalee, Serunuwara, Kantale, and Thambalagamuwa in support of the hartal, while vehicular transport in the area also came to a standstill.

Meanwhile, it was reported that a Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) bus plying from Trincomalee to Colombo had been attacked at the fifth milepost on the Trincomalee-Kandy main road by the protesters, damaging its windscreen.

Protesters burnt tyres near the China Harbour and Sangamam junctions on Friday.

BIA back to normal

Arrangements were made to facilitate the entry of vehicles to the respective gates for drop off and pick up of passengers, and to minimise the distance passengers had to walk with their baggage, according to the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).

The SLAF said an airport taxi service would also commence at the exit terminal and any passenger wishing to use the service will be able to make a booking at the terminal, and board it just outside. Any passenger arriving at the airport can also consult any airport or air force official for further information about the new arrangements.

The SLAF said it was made aware that passengers arriving at and departing from Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) underwent considerable inconvenience because of the enhanced security checks implemented from 21 April.

Passengers, arriving or departing, had to walk a considerable distance to/from their vehicles as the SLAF was compelled to prohibit the entry of vehicular traffic through the airport entrances.