News

Zahran’s wife never said intelligence officer met him: Sarath Weerasekera

  • Sarath Weerasekera slams SJB claims
  • Says two lorries had fish not bombs
  • SDIG Deshabandu says yet to take SLC role
  • SJB asks for tabling of PCoI report and 22 volumes of same

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

Claiming that the recent allegation made by two Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) parliamentarians in Parliament that National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) Leader and suicide bomber Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zahran alias Zahran Hashim, according to his wife, Abdul Cader Fatima Hadiya, had met with an intelligence officer at their residence on several occasions, was untrue, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd.) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera charged that such allegations have been made in an attempt to mislead the public.

On 9 November, the SJB MPs made several revelations in Parliament concerning the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 21 April 2019, including the aforementioned allegation.

“We don’t know if Hadiya is still alive or not, but she has confirmed in her statement to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that probed the bombings that there were days when Sri Lankan intelligence officers met Zahran at his residence,” the MPs claimed. “The testimony of Hadiya was captured on video. In that, she says that an intelligence officer came to their house. Who was the officer? Why won’t you reveal that? And why do you get flustered when we talk about these things?” they claimed.

Accordingly, Weerasekera made a statement in Parliament yesterday (11) regarding the allegation.

Revealing that Hadiya has given five statements to the authorities both before (two) and after (three statements including a 22-page-long statement to the Ampara Police on 6 May 2019, a 102-page-long statement to the Criminal Investigation Department [CID] thereafter, and a 362-page-long statement to the PCoI) the Easter Sunday terror attacks, he said that none of those statements had mentioned an incident where intelligence officers have come and met with Zahran.

“I challenge the MPs to show where such a thing is mentioned. I request them to visit the CID and examine the said statement at any time. If you have a backbone, go outside the Parliament and make these allegations. Then we will allow you to read these 362 pages. If such a thing is not mentioned there, legal actions can be taken against you for providing the public with misinformation in the process of investigating this terror attack. All these incidents took place during the previous United National Front (UNF)-led Government. They think that they are always right but it is now clear that they are liars and not true to their words,” he said.

Weerasekera also said that an investigation carried out by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) into the allegation of the Zahran-led group being paid by the then Government, which was contained in a letter handed over by SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella to Catholic priest Rohan Silva, has concluded that Zahran did not have any connection with the intelligence services.

Meanwhile, Weerasekera accused former CID Director Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Shani Abeysekara and the CID of not having carried out investigations into Hadiya properly in 2018 and 2019. “Prior to the terror attacks, the CID had twice questioned Hadiya in 2018 and 2019. When she was being questioned, she stated that two women named Sarah (Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah Jasmine) and Feroza were also staying at her home. Sarah is the wife of Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hastun who carried out the suicide bombing at the St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya. Feroza’s husband was the suicide bomber at the Zion Church in Battiocaloa. However, the CID had only recorded statements from Hadiya. If the CID led by Abeysekara had carried out these investigations properly, these attacks would have been prevented,” he said.

The SJB, on 9 November, made a reference to the capture of two lorries at the Gelanigama exit point of the Southern Expressway on 4 April 2019, which were later released on the instructions of a certain senior police official. “What was being transported in these lorries? Who was the Police Chief who called and instructed that the lorries be released? Who was the owner of these lorries? We ask Weerasekera to at least reveal these things. On the day of the attacks, the Police Chief in question was at the Maalu Maalu Hotel in Pasikuda. We ask Weerasekera to find out and reveal who paid the Police Chief’s bill and whose voucher he used in order to stay at the hotel,” he said.

The SJB also claimed that weapons and explosives were found inside these lorries in question and that a bribe had been accepted in Rs. 5,000 notes. “Who accepted a bribe in Rs. 5,000 notes? Which position does the said police officer occupy in this Government at present? What happened to the court cases against him?”

Weerasekera refuted the claims of lorries laden with firearms and instead claimed that it was actually live fish which was being transported from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake to a certain location in Horana. “The lorries were not stopped for long due to the limited supply of oxygen for the fish. The lorries were checked at several places including at the airport and the animal quarantine centre, and nowhere does it mention that the lorries were laden with firearms or any illegal items. The fish were imported by a company in Rajagiriya and all the relevant documents were present to prove so. A senior police official was then instructed to release the said lorries. Once again, this proves that the SJB has made false allegations,” said Weerasekera.

He further said that no police official had been at the Maalu Maalu Hotel on 21 April 2019 and requested SJB to present any bill or other document, if any, to prove the matter.

Weerasekera also revealed that further to an investigation carried out in 2016 where it was discovered that illegal terrorist activities have been going on and that the previous UNF-led Government was informed, and former Minister President’s Counsel (PC) Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe had also mentioned the same in Parliament, the previous UNF-led Government had not taken any steps to prevent such attacks.

Further claiming that the SJB had mentioned that Abdul Latif Jameel Mohamed, who blew himself up at the Tropical Inn Lodge in Dehiwala following a failed attempt to carry out a suicide attack on the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo, had connections with intelligence officers, Weerasekera said that according to the 15th Chapter of the PCoI’s report, there has been no such connection.

“Even though the intelligence services had informed the relevant parties of Zahran and his activities, no actions were taken at that time. At present, Catholic priests are also in trouble after stating what you have told in Parliament, openly,” he said.

Meanwhile, the SJB replied to Weerasekera’s statement last evening in Parliament.

Claiming that the Vatican, Colombo Archbishop His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, and Catholic priests have listened to Hadiya’s recordings, the party said that he was unable to expose where the recording is due to threats to his life. “Well, let’s say that it is not there. Weerasekera today tabled some police records, but he didn’t table the PCoI report. We are asking him to table it. Then there will be no issue.”

Claiming that Weerasekera did not provide answers to what they have asked, the SJB asked Weerasekera to reveal the name of the said senior police official who had ordered the release of the two said lorries. “Why can’t Weerasekera reveal the lorry owner’s name?” he queried.

The party also queried: “Weerasekera says that the police official in question did not go to Maalu Maalu. How did this officer take leave on a day on which terror attacks were to take place? The Police had received all this information.”

On 9 November, the SJB also claimed that the security responsibilities of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) have been handed over to a police official who is still in service. “Is he the same person who went to the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth Relic) and went to visit the chief prelates (Mahanayakas) and requested that police officers not be harassed based on the PCoI report? We ask these questions knowing the answers, so the Government can provide answers.”

Weerasekera refuted the said allegation and said that there was no police official in charge of the security at the SLC.

The SJB also tabled in the Parliament the contract agreement of the said police official who is said to have been appointed as an Advisor to the Security Consultant at the SLC. “Since August 2021, the Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) of the Western Province has been appointed to the SLC as an Advisor to the Security Consultant of the SLC. His salary is Rs. 150,000. How can a police official who is still in service be appointed to such a position?”

However, when contacted by The Morning, SDIG of the Western Province Deshabandu Tennakoon said that even though he has been invited by the SLC to accept the said position by a contract agreement dated 7 August 2021, he had not yet accepted it. “I was sent this agreement by the SLC on 7 August. Accordingly, I, through the Inspector General of Police (IGP), asked Public Security Ministry Secretary (Retd.) Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis if I can hold that position according to the Establishments Code. Then the Ministry had suggested some amendments to the agreement and it was again sent to the Ministry after making the relevant amendments. However, I have not yet received the approval.” He also said that he had not got any allowance from the SLC. However, he said that if the Ministry grants its approval, he would take up the position. “If there is no issue according to the Establishments Code, I will accept it but if permission is not granted, I would thank the SLC and decline the invitation.”

The SJB also claimed that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had acknowledged at the Rajopawanaramaya in Gatambe, Kandy that Zahran was paid by the intelligence services.

The SJB further claimed that instead of speaking about Hadiya’s recording, Weerasekera was speaking about previous investigation reports. “Weerasekera now says that Zahran was not arrested, but at that time, DIG Nalaka de Silva who had requested to arrest Zahran, was arrested on charges of a conspiracy to assassinate the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and then President Maithripala Sirisena. What we believe is that by doing so, they let Zahran continue on his way,” he said.

The SJB also queried as to why the 22 volumes of the PCoI report into Easter Sunday bombings have not yet been tabled in the Parliament and claimed that the said volumes contain the most important matters. “Former Attorney General (AG) Dappula De Livera PC, who went through all these volumes, revealed that these terror attacks were a conspiracy. Why is he not questioned about it?”

On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, three churches (St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, and Zion Church in Batticaloa) and three luxury hotels in Colombo (Cinnamon Grand Colombo, The Kingsbury Colombo, and Shangri-La Colombo) were targeted in a series of co-ordinated suicide bombings. Later that day, another two bomb explosions took place at a house in Dematagoda and the Tropical Inn Lodge in Dehiwala. A total of 269 people excluding the bombers were killed in the bombings, including about 45 foreign nationals, while at least 500 were injured. All eight of the suicide bombers in the attacks were Sri Lankan citizens associated with the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) organisation founded by the suicide bomber at Shangri-La Colombo, Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zaharan alias Zaharan Hashim. 

Weerasekera told the media on 27 October that all investigations carried out by the Police regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 21 April 2019 have now been completed. He said that all the duties of the Police regarding the said investigations have been fulfilled. “The Police have completed all investigations with regard to the terror attacks and have handed over the findings to the AG. Accordingly, nine lawsuits are currently being heard in five High Courts (HCs) pertaining to the attacks,” he added.