Editorial/Opinion

Easter attacks and political posturing

“Politics is the only art whose artists regularly disown their masterpieces” – Raheel Farooq
Whilst the carnage and savagery of the Bloody Easter bombings of 21 April continue to linger in the hearts and minds of all Sri Lankans, the blame game and blunders seemed to continue proving the age-old adage that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
The week started off with the beleaguered Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara being sent on compulsory leave and President Maithripala Sirisena appointing Senior DIG C.D. Wickramaratne as the acting IGP.
Jayasundara, who too is reported to have been given as many as 13 intelligence reports of planned attacks on churches, refused to be the scapegoat for the Bloody Easter bombings and step down at Sirisena’s behest.
As the 19th Amendment to the Constitution makes provision inter alia dismissal of any police officer sans the IGP via the Constitutional Council (CC), legal luminaries are of the view that the only way to remove the IGP is by way of a resolution passed in Parliament.

Rajitha’s revelation

Last Tuesday (30), Minister of Health Dr. Rajitha Senaratne made a startling allegation that the birth of the Thowheed Jamath mother outfit was the brainchild of none other than the Mahinda Rajapaksa era Defence Secretary and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and that 26 Muslim operatives had been paid remuneration through secret accounts operated by the Defence Ministry.
It is now learnt that the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), which carried out the dastardly 21 April bombings, had been a highly radical and militant breakaway faction which later had gone “rogue”.
“The Thowheed Jamath team and Rajapaksa had been coordinated by a former Major General who during the 2005 presidential election had worked for (then) President Mahinda Rajapaksa.”
Senaratne claimed that the Thowheed Jamath had met former President Mahinda Rajapaksa along with SLPP stalwarts Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa.
“Accordingly, one extremist group helped another extremist group,” he said, claiming that both organisations such as Thowheed Jamath and Bodhu Bala Sena, led by controversial Buddhist monk Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera were supported by the former Defence Secretary.
The intelligence establishments have paid salaries of the suspect Abdul Razik of the Thowheed Jamath (TJ), who is accused of killing police officers at the Vavunathivu police road block last year.
He further claimed that although the “Joint Opposition” was making a huge hue and cry over the proposed Sharia University, it was given green light during the Rajapaksa regime.
“The Batticaloa University, which is charged for promoting Sharia Law, signed agreements with the former President along with other organisations established under the Sharia Law. On 13 May 2013, a Sharia school was set up in Akurana. Several Sharia institutions have been enacted in 2011-2012 and over 200 mosques were built before 2015. If there was a proper intelligence establishment, they would have paid attention to how these organisations were formed.”
“However, after 2015, no mosque has been built under radical Islamic laws. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the father of the legalisation of radical Islamic extremists and we are accused of hunting down war heroes. In addition, at that time the chief intelligence officer was Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana, who is now Chief Security Officer at the Hotel Shangri-La, Colombo. Where was he when two bombs went off? How can such officers guard the country if they are unable to protect the Shangri-La Hotel? At that time, they were engaged in breaking up political parties,” he added.
“There were some newspaper reports that after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, there would be a political change. This was also publicised by the President’s own personal secretary. But in the aftermath, his Facebook account has been disabled. I also informed the President about this. In addition, a project director of the President had also noted on social media that “it would most probably be a terrorist act that would tear hearts” on 16 April. On 21 April, it was taken down. I informed the President about this. The official in question had a close connection with former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando. People around the President must be scrutinised. Such statements also threaten the President’s life.”
“Nevertheless, we take responsibility of the terrorist attacks and are not trying to escape responsibility,” Senaratne told the media.
However, MP Gammanpila and SLTJ rejected all claims saying that they would be filing for damages from Senarathne.
“We have never even met Gotabaya. In addition, he charges us of giving copies of the Quran to then President Rajapaksa but he has forgotten that we have given copies also to Minister Senaratne,” charged SLTJ Secretary Abdul Razak, claiming that they had no link whatsoever with the NTJ.
State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake too voiced concerns as to why due consideration had not been given to intelligence reports.
“Several extremist groups have been funded by the same account. This was started in 2005. Thowheed Jamath had joined the military activities in 2014. When intelligence information was reporting this, there had been no consideration.”

Jailing operatives

Several persons including Ven. Dr. Omalpe Thera requested the Government to release jailed intelligence operatives in order to strengthen the country’s intelligence establishments last week.
However, it is now revealed through a US diplomatic cable leaked from WikiLeaks that Rajapaksa had pledged to then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis, way back in 6 October 2009, that action would be taken to prosecute Sri Lanka armed forces personnel who had committed crimes.
“In a 6 October meeting with Ambassador, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the president ‘could’ appoint a new commission to look at complaints or use some existing mechanism, such as an ombudsman. He also noted that, contrary to widely held impressions, the Army had investigated and prosecuted individual soldiers for individual crimes (presumably stealing, rape, murder, etc.) committed during the war, and Major General Peiris, heading the Military Legal Department, could provide more information.”
Several other activists dismissed notions that detained intelligence sleuths had to be released in order to revive intelligence establishments.
Reputed human rights lawyer and the Executive Director of the Sri Lankan branch of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, J.C. Weliamuna said that although there were over 12,000 intelligence operatives, the Opposition spoke of releasing just 25 who have been remanded for wrong doing.
Former Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka too dismissed such claims, stating that although the Opposition complained of intelligence operatives being jailed, they were silent when he, being the Army Commander was jailed for political reasons.
“What about me being jailed?” queried the former Army Commander.

MR’s shadow ‘NSC’

It is in this backdrop that former President and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa convened a meeting last week with former heads of the defence establishment who had served during his tenure as President.
Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa along with former chiefs of the three armed forces and police, including Jagath Jayasuriya, Wasantha Karannagoda, Roshan Goonathileka, Mahinda Balasuriya, Kamal Gunarathne, and Jayanath Colombage attended the meeting.
It was in other words, a meeting of a shadow “National Security Council” (NSC) under Rajapaksa’s leadership.
The forces chiefs had opined that the lack of interest shown on national security issues was the key factor that had contributed to the Easter Sunday attacks.
After discussing the shortcomings in the national security sector, Rajapaksa had called on the former heads of the defence establishment to prepare a report on the way forward including proposals to be implemented to overcome the current crisis and strengthening national security.
Accordingly, the former forces heads had prepared the report within a few days and had handed it over to the Opposition Leader on Thursday (2).
A follow up meeting was held on Thursday evening under Rajapaksa’s patronage. The meeting was held at Rajapaksa’s official residence in Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7 and the main purpose was to discuss the issues to be discussed at the meeting with the President later that evening.
MPs Dinesh Gunawardena, Dullas Alahapperuma, Udaya Gammanpila, Wimal Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, and Kumara Welgama had attended the meeting.
After discussing the way forward for the country, Rajapaksa met the President and submitted the report prepared by the former forces chiefs along with the proposals.

MS-MR meet

The meeting between President Sirisena and former President Rajapaksa along with several “Joint Opposition” MPs took place at around 7.45 p.m. last Thursday (2) at the President’s official residence.
At the outset of the meeting, the President had explained the latest in the country’s security situation and the measures taken thus far.
“This is a problem with an international terrorist organisation. It is an attack carried out with ISIS assistance. We have already taken measures to remove the Defence Secretary and appoint a more efficient official in place. The IGP has been sent on compulsory leave and the defence establishment is undergoing many changes,” Sirisena had said.
He added that while many arrests have been made during the probe, a large number of arms and ammunition had also been seized.
After the President concluded his remarks, it was Prof. G.L. Peiris who had spoken. He said there was information of 50 persons from the Turkish terrorist organisation having arrived in Sri Lanka.
“When I inquired from the Turkish Ambassador in the country, he said that relevant information had been given to the Defence Ministry on three occasions. He said that action was taken due to objections raised by Muslim ministers,” Prof. Peiris had said.
MP Weerawansa questioned the arrival of around 40 US FBI officials in Sri Lanka. He asked why such a large number has been allowed into the country.
The President denied Weerawansa’s claims, saying that such a large number of FBI agents have not arrived in the country. “We did not get anyone into the country. This is an international terror organisation. Therefore, every country is keen to investigate the details that led to the attacks. That’s why they have come and the number of FBI agents in the country is around eight, not 40. The others are US officials working for other departments,” Sirisena had said.
MP Gammanpila had then raised the issue of the Counter Terrorism Bill. He said the Government was trying to introduce legislation that would favour terrorism by repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
The President then said that he had opposed the proposed bill from its inception and he stood against it when it was being moved initially by the Government.
“They (the Government) said that if the proposed legislation is approved at least in Cabinet, it could be presented to the Human Rights Council in March. I then asked that it be re-presented to Cabinet with amendments. But it has been brought now without any of the amendments. Therefore, everyone needs to oppose it in Parliament,” an angry Sirisena had said.

ISIS and cryptocurrency

Be that as it may, a foreign company engaged in probing the funding mechanism behind the Easter Sunday attacks made a startling revelation last week.
Not only the Sri Lankan military establishments, but global bodies fighting the funding of terrorism were startled to learn that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had used cryptocurrency to fund the Sri Lanka Easter Bombings.
According to Israel Blockchain analysis firm Whitestream, Bitcoin was used by ISIS to fund the Sri Lanka Easter Bombings which resulted in the deaths of 250-plus persons. Canadian based payment gateway, CoinPayments, was used to convert from Bitcoin to Fiat, reveals the agency.
Large scale transactions took place between the Bitcoin accounts ISIS holds and the Bitcoin accounts controlled by CoinPayments.
According to Whitestream, ISIS is doing mass funding campaigns to raise donations in Bitcoin. The main efforts are carried out through a dedicated website. The domain address is frequently changed to prevent tracking by authorities around the world.
According to Whitestream, Hamas too converts their Bitcoin donations through CoinPayments. In the latest report by Whitestream, they mention that Hamas is moving Bitcoin through Binance and withdrawing them through BitFinex.
Whitestream found that the balances in the payment company’s wallets surged from $ 500,000 to $ 4.5 million, just one day before the Easter attacks. The firm added that the CoinPayments’ balances dropped back to $ 500,000 right after the deadly attacks took place. The payment company in question admitted that they had processed high-volume transactions. However, it denied having any knowledge about the money’s links with terrorist groups.
“CoinPayments admits that their wallet was involved but denied that it is connected to ISIS,” says Whitestream. “It’s possible that the company is not aware of the usage of their wallets, perhaps because ISIS uses straw companies [to] transfer the money.”
Whitestream, founded by Itsik Levy and Uri Bornstein, confirmed that it was monitoring ISIS-linked Bitcoin wallets from the past two years. The firm eventually maximised its focus on one Bitcoin wallet that was receiving donations actively over different periods. It succeeded in verifying two transactions which originated from the Bitcoin wallet address listed on the ISIS fundraising website.
Levy said they were able to trace the transactions back to CoinPayments, indicating that the payment processing company knowingly/unknowingly was facilitating the ISIS funding campaign.
“Our assumption is that the terrorist organisation probably possesses many Bitcoin addresses through CoinPayments, with every donation sent to a different address,” Levy said. “On the day before the Sri Lanka terror attacks, we identified two relatively big transactions at this address with Bitcoins worth about $ 9,800.”
“In the past two years, ISIS has been running a mass funding campaign to raise donations in Bitcoin. The aim of the campaign is to contribute to the organisation’s technological division, which deals with the media, advertising, and computer infrastructure sectors. The main efforts are carried out through a dedicated website. The domain address is frequently changed to prevent tracking by authorities around the world.”
It is learnt that money amounting to hundreds of millions had indeed been transferred with accounts belonging to the father of two suicide bombers and reputed spice exporter and billionaire Mohamed Ibrahim.

Kiriella saga

Amidst national security concerns, the Police apprehended a group of individuals trying to circulate documents defamatory of the President.
Leader of the House and State Enterprises, Kandyan Heritage, and Kandy Development Minister Lakshman Kiriella was embroiled in the bitter controversy with three of his staff members being arrested over attempting to post letters tarnishing the image of President Sirisena.
However Minister Kiriella issued a statement iterating that the members of his Media Unit acted on his instructions and challenged authorities to make public the contents of the so-called “anti-government” letters that were seized with his three officials.
He charged that the content included inter alia an article titled “Sirisena Briefed about Easter Sunday Attacks 10 Days Before: Protects SIS Chief, Lies about IGP and Defence Secretary” published by the Colombo Telegraph.
Kiriella quoting Colombo Telegraph alleges that there is no way that the President did not know and unable to take action against the SIS Chief who is his favourite DIG, he claimed that President Sirisena decided to make the former Defence Secretary Fernando and the IGP fall guys in the debacle.

IGP’s conundrum

In a fundamental rights application taken up before the Supreme Court last Friday (3) the Attorney General declined to appear for beleaguered IGP Pujith Jayasundara and Special Security Division DIG Priyalal Dasanayake despite the request submitted by the Director of the Police Legal Division.
The two-member bench consisting Justices Preethi Padman Surasena and Buwaneka Aluvihara deferred the petition filed by Janath S. Vidanage tour operator to 21 May.
IGP Jayasundara, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, and DIG Dasanayake as well as the Attorney General were cited as respondents.
The petitioner avers that the actions and/or omissions of the respondents constitute executive and administrative action and prayed the court for a declaration that the respondents have violated the fundamental rights to equality and equal protection by law as well as the freedom to engage in lawful occupation and business.
He also prayed the court to direct the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute the IGP under the Penal Code for criminal negligence.
He avers that he became aware inter alia cabinet ministers, MPs, several key figures including His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith – the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo – who had informed the public that an intelligence report had been forwarded to the IGP of the imminent danger of a planned attack by suicide bombers of extremist religious groups targeting inter alia Christian churches and economically vital places.

Prez polls

Many security and political analysts have now come to the conclusion that the present predicament up to 21 April was caused due to the preoccupation and obsession of the political leadership of the country cut across all main parties over the year end presidential elections.
In fact, many believe the 51-day illegal coup exacerbated the situation and worsened the political stalemate the country was already in.
“You see November 2019, there is a presidential election. Each party is trying to do something to win over someone,” said a prominent governor of the day.

Gota’s citizenship
Meanwhile, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in an interview on a private TV channel, announced that the US Government had accepted his application to renounce his US citizenship and as such, he was now a Sri Lankan citizen.
He also told a foreign newswire that he was ready to contest the forthcoming presidential polls as a result under the ticket of the SLPP and vowed to wipe out religious extremism from the country.
Also, former United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Tissa Attanayake, breaking his silence, remarked that Gotabaya was suitable to run for the presidential polls as he had succeeded in winning the confidence of the general public.