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Easter Sunday attacks PCoI report: Moots action against politicos, officials, cops

  • Fmr. Prez Sirisena, fmr Defence Secy Hemasiri, fmr IGP Pujith, fmr Nat. Intel Chief Sisira Mendis, and fmr SIS Chief Nilantha Jayawardena named
  • Failure to prevent attacks, dereliction of duty/negligence, etc
  • Ranil’s lax attitude to Islamist extremism contributed
  • Basis of Islamist extremism is Thowheed ideology/Wahhabism
  • Urges ban of Wahhabism, IS, BBS, SLJI, SLJISM/SLJSM, Thowheed groups
  • Confirms Zahran the mastermind, inspired by Bangladeshi attack

 

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the Easter Sunday attack has recommended that legal action be taken against a topmost politician, senior police officers, and senior public officials, over the failure to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks and properly perform their duties.

The report concluded that there was a failure and negligence on the part of the officials and authorities, including former President Maithripala Sirisena, former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara, former National Intelligence Chief Sisira Mendis, and former State Intelligence Service (SIS) Chief Nilantha Jayawardena, in preventing a terror attack and taking legal action against the perpetrators.

Charges against them are: failure to detect that terrorist and extremist activity was taking place in the country; being negligent to look into such, and who was responsible for it and also to take legal action; and the failure to prevent the 21 April 2019 attack.

The PCoI has noted that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe displayed a lax approach towards Islamist extremism during his tenure as the Prime Minister. The report added that this in turn created a conducive environment for Islamist extremism to build in Sri Lanka and led to the failure on the part of the Government to proactively curb and control Islamic extremist activities, which ultimately led to the Easter Sunday attack.

The PCoI, in its final report, further recommended that Wahhabism, all Thowheed organisations, as well as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) should be banned.

The PCoI’s report further concluded that a number of persons, namely, Zahran Hashim, Rilwan, Shaini, Ilham, Inshaf, Jameel, Hasthun, Muath, Azad, Mubarak, Naufer, Milhan, Sadeeq, and others were directly linked to terrorist activities, and that groups such as the Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami (SLJI), SLJI’s Student Movement (SLJISM), and Thowheed groups were indirectly connected to these activities.

The fact that Zahran died in the attack led to intense speculation about whether he was the actual leader of the group. The Commission has concluded that he was in fact the leader and that he had informed his group members about his intentions to personally take part in the suicide attack, at a meeting on 27 March 2019 at Panadura. The Commission notes that it has no reason to doubt the evidence it received of the details of the meeting held at Panadura on 27 March 2019.

The report states that Zahran had believed that he was following in the footsteps of Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, who was alleged to be the emir of the Islamic State (IS) in Bangladesh. Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi Canadian, allegedly masterminded the July 2016 Dhaka attack at the Gulshan café which killed 29 people. The Commission notes that Zahran had mistakenly believed that Chowdhury had also died in the attack. However, Chowdhury did not, and was killed a month later in a raid on an IS safe house in Dhaka by Bangladeshi forces.

The report also noted that evidence had led to the identification of the persons who had, in the aftermath of the attacks, engaged in public protests and disruptive activities causing damages to properties and persons and creating public unrest. It further added that certain organisations and persons had caused public unrest which led to ethnic and religious tensions and had aided and abetted in such, and this had in turn hindered establishing peace and had disrupted social cohesion.

The main factor behind the 21 April 2019 attack, according to the PCoI’s conclusions, is the Wahhab ideology and Thowheed groups, SLJI, SLJISM, and Islamic State (IS), while the BBS has been named as a contributory factor. It also stated that funding for the 21 April 2019 attacks was primarily from Ibrahim brothers, Inshaf and Ilham.

The PCoI has recommended that the aggrieved parties be paid compensation and welfare activities be conducted.

Matters pertaining to the factory owned by Rishad Bathiudeen should be directed to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), the report said. The Commission has recommended criminal charges against Bathiudeen for making calls to Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake and attempting to obtain certain concessions for a suspect named Ihsan Meinudeen, who was in custody after being arrested in connection with the attack by the Sri Lanka Army. 

The Commission recommended that the President should hand over the entire report to the Attorney General (AG) to consider filing criminal cases against all persons who have been charged with committing offences.

The PCoI’s report presented a number of recommendations with regard to rehabilitating the victims and supporting them in other ways, ensuring public security and non-recurrence of similar attacks, preventing future negligence and offences, and preventing harms caused by such terrorist and extremist activities to national security and national harmony.

In regard to public administration, the report said that the lack of good governance, an effective judicial system, and there being no platform for people to raise their issues played an important role in the process of radicalisation, adding that it is, therefore, important that all shortcomings pertaining to such be addressed.

To protect Sri Lanka’s air space, the Government should completely regulate the air space, including via the use of drone cameras, the report said.

All ancient religious monuments should be protected, and for this, a special police unit has to be established at the national and provincial levels, the report recommended.

Adding that the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act should be amended to allow persons to testify from overseas, the report recommended that a new law should be enacted against terrorism. The report further recommended that in accordance with the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the offence of terrorism financing should be further strengthened.

Recommending more amendments to acts, the report said that a committee should be appointed to suggest suitable amendments to the Exchange Control Act. Speaking of the Financial Transactions Reporting Act, the report recommended granting the Financial Intelligence Unit access to the Department of Registration of Persons, Registrar of Motor Vehicles, Department of Immigration and Emigration, Land Registrar, Criminal Reporting Section, and the International Police. The report added: “The unit should be allowed to start reports on suspicious transactions, financial transactions, and electronic fund exchanges, and also, there must be a dedicated officer to liaise (between) every commercial bank and the unit.”

Among the recommendations of the report were making relevant amendments to the process of registering companies under the Companies Act.

“There must be a balance between the ease of doing business and national security. Notifications regarding companies’ annual reports should be properly monitored. Religious schools should not be registered under the Companies Act, and they should all be brought under an administrative mechanism to regulate all religious schools,” the report mentioned.

Other law reforms suggested in the report were strengthening deportation laws to deport foreign terrorism suspects, and formulating laws for taking into state custody all property of the suicide bombers. In addition, amending the money laundering laws to allow for the freezing and confiscation of assets during investigations was also recommended.

Under recommendations for the AG’s Department, the report recommended establishing a unit pertaining to terrorism-related matters and training them, as well as implementing a review of quarterly reports of all sections of the AG’s Department. The unit, along with other institutions, groups, and offices having monthly meetings, was also recommended.

Adding that a total of 271 deaths have been reported in the Easter Sunday attacks, the report recommended paying a sum of Rs. 2 million for each death, and Rs. 500,000 for each injured person.

In regard to constructing religious places, the report recommended that a central government body should regulate the construction of any buildings, statues, or any other such objects for use as a place of religious worship, and converting any building for such purposes.

The report recommended that a broad investigation must be conducted pertaining to the involvement of Mohammed Nafeez Mahommaed Nafrith, and Mohammed Nafeez Mohommed Navith with Zahran and his group, and that investigations must be conducted whether the SLJISM and other Thowheed groups were involved. It also recommended that without precise approval, no multiple investigative agencies can investigate a single matter, and assurance must be given in this regard.

Laws must be specially implemented to prevent politicians from interfering with the duties of police officers, and provisions must be made to arrest any person who is suspected of causing religious and ethnic disharmony without a warrant, the report said, recommending that the law to issue search warrants to search any place where a terrorist suspect against whom a Magistrate has issued a warrant is hiding, should be amended. 

Establishing a dedicated high court to hear all Easter Sunday-related cases and all terrorism cases was also among the recommendations. It also recommended that judges must be provided special protection and given training, and that cases must be tried daily. The AG, looking into filing criminal action against Rashid Hajjul Akbar for conspiring to establish an Islamic state in Sri Lanka, and looking into whether criminal action can be filed against Razik Rafideen alias Abdul Razik for claiming that the “Triple Gem” were three gem stones and that Buddha was a cannibal, were also among the recommendations.

Confirming an exclusive news report by The Morning under the headline “Easter report moots criminal charges against Gnanasara Thera” on 12 February, the report recommended that the AG must look into whether a criminal case can be filed against Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act for speeches made in Aluthgama in June 2014 and February 2013.

The report also recommended that the cyber space including social media should be regulated so that extremist religious ideologies do not enter Sri Lanka, and religious websites and blogs should be investigated, charged, and cases filed and perpetrators punished. “Together with internet service providers, action must be taken to regulate the prevention and propagation of extremism and terrorism via the internet, and such websites must be blocked, and laws must be enacted to deal with such,” the report added. Under social media, it said that permission should be granted to block social media to prevent extremist and terrorist activities by enacting relevant laws and regulations.

In regard to religious institutes such as Dhamma schools, Sunday schools, Ahadiya, and Thakkiya, the report recommended that all such schools should be regulated under one institution by the Government.

To ensure national security, the report recommended that the Ministry of Defence should always be under the President, and constitutional provisions must be enacted to make it mandatory to appoint an Acting Defence Minister when the President goes overseas. 

“When the President is overseas and when the Prime Minister is not the Acting Minister of Defence, all national security information should be informed to the Prime Minister,” the report added.

De-radicalisation programmes being launched was also recommended by the report.

Under education, the report stated: “Instead of school segregation on the basis of religion, national, provincial, and international schools should be established, and all schools should have student population representing the country’s religious composition. A new subject called ‘religious education’ should be taught in all schools, and it must be made mandatory to learn the basic facts about Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam from grade one to 10. It must be looked into that all religious all religious textbooks do not contain both direct and indirect literature pertaining to terrorism. Introduce comparative religion as a subject in the school curriculum. It should be mandatory for all children between the ages of five to 18 to receive education at recognised state and private educational institutes. Education must be mandatory for all children up to 13 years of age. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Islamic culture, literature, folklore, music, and dance must be taught as a new subject to all students. All educational publications must be reviewed by a monitoring board to identify and remove any extremist and terrorism contents. A database should be established containing details of foreigners coming to the country for educational purposes and Sri Lankans going overseas for the same.”

All religious teachings in private schools must be closely observed, the report further recommended.

“An electoral system must be created to ensure that the party that gets over 50% votes gets a working majority. It must also ensure that minority groups get proper representation. MPs joining another party should be prohibited, and legal provisions must be introduced to make it mandatory for every voter to exercise their vote. Failure to do so must be subjected to a fine,” the report added.

Another recommendation in the report was that the sale of material that can be used as explosives should be strictly regulated, and must be monitored after sale. “Also, the Auditor General should be legally empowered to conduct specific audits, and all VIP entrances in airports should be inspected,” the report added.

Under financial systems, the report said that a licensing and registration mechanism should be introduced concerning irregular monetary exchange service providers such as hawala, hundiyal, and cryptocurrency, and that records should be maintained on the same.

“Unless specific permission is provided in the visa process, no foreigner can conduct religious lectures, discussions, and conferences. A separate visa category must be issued for the purpose. Permission must be granted for them to enter the country only after a thorough investigation by the intelligence authorities and prior approval by the Education and Defence Ministries. All content must be obtained in advance by the authorities for inspection. If such a preacher has been banned in another country, whether they are to be granted entry must be considered. The content of their speech must be approved in prior,” the report added.

To deal with foreign terrorist fighters, the report recommended maintaining statistics of foreign fighters who return to Sri Lanka from Syria and other places.

Also, not allowing foreigners to work in Sri Lanka without defence approval was also a recommendation.

With regard to the hospitalisation of persons, the report said: “The identity of the patient being admitted to state and private hospitals must be ascertained through the NIC (National Identity Card), passport of the driver’s license, and all hospital police procedures must be revised. As per a medical officer’s recommendation, procedures must be implemented for all patients to be issued a medico-legal investigation form and for such to be certified.”

The report added that when it comes to hotels, lodging houses, guest houses, and other accommodation, a strict procedure must be implemented in these places to obtain complete and accurate information about guests, and that information must be preserved for a period of three years.

The report added: “The Sinhala, Tamil, and English version of the Quran, published by the Religious Affairs Ministry, should be made available. The book Kitab At-Tauhid, authored by Mohammad Bin Abdul Wahab, must be banned. All madrasas must be governed under a suitable legal framework and be regulated by a statutory authority. These should be monitored by the Ministry of Education and should follow the Government’s school syllabus, and teachers should be appointed through a government mechanism. Also, laws must be formulated to regulate the inflow of funds to madarasas. There must be one ministry for all religions, and laws should be enacted in the Constitution so that this ministry should be under the President.”

Issuing of mobile connections should be strictly regulated and the number of mobile connections an individual can have should be restricted, the report said, adding that an NIC card with an electronic chip containing all data of those above 15 years should be issued and that it should be annually updated.

In order to ensure national security, the report said that the National Security Council (NSC) headed by the President should be the supreme body to formulate laws to establish a National Intelligence Agency, and that there must be a National Intelligence Director’s Office under the Ministry of Defence.

Also, the report said that one of the main reasons for the Easter Sunday attack was the lack of more attention and priority to national security, and that therefore, a national security policy must be approved.

The report added: “The one country, one law concept must be implemented. All locally recognised terrorist organisations and terrorists must be named under the relevant United Nations (UN) regulations. Create a legal mechanism to allow the Police to obtain the Army’s support without emergency law being declared under the Public Security Ordinance to address terrorist and extremist activities. Wearing clothes covering one’s place in public places must be prohibited. A social media platform under the Ministry of Defence should be created to suppress propaganda relevant to religious and ethnic extremism. Actions should be taken to prevent organised criminals, drugs racketeers, and arms dealers from leaving the country, and it should be made mandatory for all professionals to notify the law-enforcement authority about any terrorism-related activities. Failure to do so should be punishable by a 10-year prison sentence and a Rs. 1 million fine.’

Regulating religious educational institutes and its syllabuses was also among the report’s recommendations, while it was also recommended that an investigation should be conducted into all lost passports.

To strengthen the Police Department, the report recommended that there must be a separate national level unit under a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) to monitor complaints related to religious activities, adding that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) must be under one DIG.

Paying attention to the suitability of the use of terms in state administration was also recommended.

In regard to private member bills, the report stated that a process should be created to conduct a security screening on private members’ bills which seek to establish instructions and organisations.

Formulating laws and regulations to ban the IS and religious extremist groups in Sri Lanka, and banning the SLJI and SLJSM was also recommended. The report recommended conducting investigations to file criminal charges against their activities and members.

In regard to registration of persons, the report said that all persons must be registered in the police station of the area in which they live.

“The registration of political parties for religious reasons and beliefs must be prohibited, and no religious names should be a part of a political party,” the report said, recommending that a grace period be given to amend registered political parties accordingly.

Under religious harmony, it recommended: “An effective legal framework to regulate the religious space should be formulated and a law similar to the Singapore’s Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act should be enacted. An all-religious leader presidential advisory committee with balance representation of all religions should be appointed, and a broad legal framework to prevent the incitement of ethnic and religious hatred should be formulated. Such persons and groups should be banned with a fine. All religious publications should be regulated, to ban content that is extremist and terrorist.”

Not allowing senior public officials to hold more than one position was also recommended.

The report added: “A presidential task force must be appointed to conduct audit of all state lands, and all unauthorised occupants should be immediately removed. All future licenses issued with regard to state lands and the granting of state lands should be done corresponding to the national, ethnic, and religious composition. No area should have only a particular ethnic or religious group. Legal action must be taken to reclaim lands purchased by Mohammed Safi Mohideen Abdul Carder in Egodapattuwa, Rideethenna, and Welikanda; also the 25 acres purchased by Saribu Adam Lebbe alias Gaffoor Mama; and Mahaweli Authority lands obtained under lease by Mohammed Cassim Caldeen.’

The report recommended the banning of the Peace TV channel, while also recommending that all contents of religious programmes aired on television and radio should be monitored.

It also recommended that the Voluntary Social Services Organisations Act should be amended to regularise the registration of non-profit, non-governmental organisations and charities, and the NGO (Nongovernmental Organisations) Secretariat’s monitoring capacity.

 

Among other recommendations were banning Wahhabism, and the report also said that the publications and teachings of Ibinu Thaimia, Ibinu Abdul Wahab, Abul A’la Maududi, and Asan Al Kanna should be banned.