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Intelligence failure blamed for Sri Lanka bombings

Parliamentary committee finds that information about possible attacks was not passed on

ucanews reporter, Colombo

ucanews reporter, Colombo

Updated: October 24, 2019 08:51 AM GMT
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Intelligence failure blamed for Sri Lanka bombings

A Sri Lankan soldier stands guard at St. Anthony's Church in Colombo on Oct. 21, six months after a suicide bombing that killed 54 people during an Easter Sunday Mass. (Photo by Ishara Kodikara/AFP)

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A Sri Lankan parliamentary report has blamed a failure of state intelligence for the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed 269 people and injured more than 500.

The nine-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), which was appointed on May 22, highlighted shortcomings in the State Intelligence Service (SIS) in a 272-page report submitted to parliament on Oct. 23.

"This was not a sudden incident," said PSC chairman Ananda Kumarasiri, adding that the events leading up to the attacks had to be looked at from the beginning.

He said the SIS had been entrusted with the task of investigating possible attacks since April 2018 after reports that a group of Islamic extremists was engaged in terrorist activities.

"The SIS had not fulfilled its obligations properly and other agencies would have been made aware of the attacks if the duty of the unit had been fulfilled," said Kumarasiri at a press conference held after the report was presented in three languages — Sinhala, Tamil and English.

"If they had informed the cardinal [Malcolm Ranjith] about the risk, the damage would have been minimized."

The committee met on 24 occasions and obtained evidence from 51 persons including President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Nine suicide bombers affiliated to local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) have been blamed for the attacks on three churches and three hotels on April 21.

Following the atrocity, defense secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned and police chief Pujitha Jayasundara was suspended.

The committee’s report said SIS chief Nilantha Jayawardena received information on possible attacks as early as April 4 — 17 days before the suicide bombings took place — but there were delays on his part in sharing the intelligence with other agencies.

Cardinal Ranjith said in July that if he had known that there was an attack planned, he would have closed all churches and protected the faithful. He has claimed that there is a clear attempt to hide the truth as all those responsible have not still been brought before a court.

The cardinal said he no longer has faith that justice will be done for the Easter Sunday victims in spite of repeated requests to reveal the truth behind the attacks. 

The island nation's  Catholic Church has said that fundamental freedoms were violated by the failure to act on essential information.

The PSC report made eight recommendations that need immediate attention. It said there is a need to control and monitor the rise of religious extremism, while the education sector needs reforms to combat extremism.

Human rights defenders have accused politicians and some religious leaders of using the Easter Sunday attacks to promote their presidential candidates in an election campaign that has centered on the theme of national security.

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