“I am yet to get a satisfactory response on why I was not briefed about the Easter Sunday terror threat,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said, suggesting that the Sri Lankan government may still not have identified the reasons for the security lapse, over three months after the bombings shook the country.
Neither he nor his security division was informed about the terror threat, despite prior intelligence being available with senior security officials, Mr. Wickremesinghe on Tuesday told a parliamentary panel probing the Easter bombings. “I went to Nuwara Eliya [Central Province] for a few days, but I was in the country. No one informed me about the [possible] attacks,” he said.
The Prime Minister is so far the highest official to testify before the Parliament Select Committee (PSC that President Sirisena has accused of endangering “national security”. However, resisting the pressure, the panel has continued inquiring top security officials, politicians, bureaucrats and religious leaders.
Queried about his knowledge of “extremist” activities in the country, Mr. Wickremesinghe said while he had received reports earlier of extremist groups that had “embraced IS ideology”, he did not receive any specific information on “terrorist” activity in the past. “We only received reports of a person [Sri Lankan fighter] killed in Syria and intelligence agencies were instructed to investigate.”
Following the public fallout between the President and the Prime Minister last October — when Mr. Sirisena controversially sacked PM Wickremesinghe and later reinstated him — the PM had not been invited to the national security council meetings chaired by Mr. Sirisena.
“The last [NSC] meeting I attended was in October 2018,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.
To members’ questions on why he didn’t raise the matter, he said: “There was one meeting in February that I learnt about later. When I enquired, I was told the council meetings weren’t going to be held thereafter.”
On whether his being kept out of the crucial meetings was a consequence of the differences with the President, he said: “no,” adding that it would be difficult to conclude so.
Asked if he was aware of reports about Zahran Hashim, the alleged mastermind of the terror attacks, Mr. Wickremesinghe said reports with authorities indicated that the radical preacher Zahran had been absconding. “There was one analysis that he could have gone to India by sea via Mannar, but no specific information about terrorist activities in the country.”
Further, admitting to a “serious lapse” in the security apparatus, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the current structure, tuned to fight the LTTE, needed to be revamped to tackle the “new phase of terror”. Mr. Wickremesinghe also called for legislation to combat hate speech, information sharing and biometrics. “Not just ISIS, every religion or ethnicity has extremist activity, we need a separate team to monitor that. The Internet poses a further challenge,” he said.