Former IGP Pujith Jayasundara is on the rack due to the failure on the part of the police, under his stewardship, to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 in spite of being forewarned. He is facing legal action. He must be ruing the day he was appointed the police chief. His successor, C. D. Wickramaratne, is also in an unenviable position, albeit for a different reason. The incumbent Police Chief has had to explain why investigations into the terrorist attacks are dragging on, and why justice has not yet been served for the families of the victims. Wickramaratne made a special statement on Wednesday. (

Government politicians, including ministers, have made quite a few statements on the ongoing investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks and sought to justify their slow progress. But the ordinary people tend to look on what they say with a jaundiced eye, and, therefore, the IGP may have come forwardto apprise the public of the progress in the probes in question, and explain why there had been some delays.

Bishops’ ultimatum

Justice delayed is said to be justice denied. It is also said that justice hurried is justice buried. These two extremes we witness in the legal and judicial processes, and no serious effort has been made to ensure that the law enforcement authorities carry out their duties and function consistently well, and the wheels of justice turn at a reasonable speed and grind fine. The pace at which investigations are conducted is thought to be determined by the interests of the politicians in power where certain high-profile cases are concerned in this country. This situation has caused a severe erosion of public trust in the legal and judicial processes. It is only natural that the Catholic Church, seeking justice for those killed and maimed in the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in 2019, wrote a 20-page letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, last month, giving the government an ultimatum.

The letter signed by eight Bishops including Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said, among other things:

We would like to inform you that if truth and justice can’t be assured and the incident is dealt with rather superficially, we will be forced to agitate for such through alternative ways. We hope you act on this urgently and provide a credible answer at least within one month.” 

The Bishops did not mince their words when they expressed their displeasure at the way the investigations were being conducted:

“ … We are truly saddened by the lethargic pace at which the state machinery is moving in order to find those who are responsible for these attacks; those who planned it and those who, even though they had forewarning about it and could have easily prevented it, did not fulfill that responsibility, and willfully neglected it, and bring them before the law.”

While demanding action against former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for their leniency towards Islamic extremism,as revealed by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI)that probed the Easter Sunday attacks, the Bishops warned the government that Catholics would be left with no alternative but to agitate unless their demands were met.

The Cardinal urged the country’s Catholics to express their dissatisfaction publicly this week. “Raise a black flag on August 21 in front of your homes, institutions and market places as a strong symbol of the silent protest,” he said at a press conference on August 13. Today, we can see black flags, which the government seems to have taken seriously.

Reasons for delays

IGP Wickramaratne picked holes in the previouslyconducted investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks. He blamed them on investigators as well as what he called flaws in probes. There had been a rush to make the bombings out to be the work of a small band of extremists who wanted to have the world believe that the ISIS was present in Sri Lanka, and there was no organized terror network involved in the crimes, the IGP said, noting that no attempt had been made to get to the bottom of it.

The investigations had been aimed at proving the claim that Zahran, the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), who led the Easter Sunday attacks, was dead and his group had perished, and other involved in those acts of terror had been arrested, the IGP said.

Some officers handling investigations had acted irresponsibly, said the IGP, noting that certain ego-driveninvestigators had been in a hurry to conclude the probes fast, and claim credit for that, and their approach had adversely impacted the criminal investigations. The PCoI report containing findings and recommendations in respect of such officers had been referred to the Attorney General for necessary action, the IGP added.

IGP Wickramaratne also claimed that the previous investigation had been characterized by a total lack of coordination among the investigation teams, who worked in water-tight compartments, and failed to carry out thorough probes because foremost in their minds had been a desire to complete investigations fast and bolster their conclusion that the perpetrators were either dead or in custody. This fact had become evident from the way some incidents had been probed before the Easter Sunday bombings, the IGP said, pointing out that their interconnectedness had gone unnoticed. He mentioned an attack Zahran and his group had carried out on their rivals in a mosque at Kattankudy, a bomb attack on a political office in the same area, a training programme conducted at a holiday resort in Nuwara-Eliya, the hospitalization of Rilvan with injuries following an accidental blast during an experiment with explosives, the killing of two policemen in Batticaloa [which was initially blamed on former LTTE cadres], a raid on a training camp in Wanathavilluwa and a motorcycle bomb explosion in Kattankudy. All those incidents had been investigated separately, and the investigators had failed to realize the gravity of the situation and their interconnectedness,the IGP said.  

Some other factors the IGP adduced to explain the delays in the investigations were the process of ascertaining information from the countries where some suspects were living, and the gathering of information pertaining to telephone conversations from  24 June 2014 and analyzing them to determine when the dissemination of extremist ideas began in this country and how extremism developed. Among those who aided and abetted the perpetrators of the attacks were some educated persons and professionals, and given their calibre and social standing, investigations had to be carried out thoroughly if they were to be successfully prosecuted, the Police Chief said.

The IGP said it had taken four years to bring those responsible for the bomb attack on the Dalada Maligawa (1998) to justice, and investigations into the suicide bomb attacks on a religious ceremony organized by a mosque in 2009 at Akuressa had taken seven years. The police had carried out those investigations free from pressure, he noted. Anyone could surf the Internet and find out how long such investigations into terrorist attacks had taken in other countries.

Progress in probes

IGP Wickramaratne highlighted what he called progress so far made in the legal and judicial processes. He said he had written to the AG, asking for a senior official to look into the legal aspects of the probes that had to be reviewed, and the AG had appointed a team for that purpose. A large number of people had been questioned, 723 arrested and 311 detained or remanded. Besides, a large number of documents had been studied and more than 100,000 telephone calls analyzed. The IGP said that bank accounts had been probed and frozen, and assets of those involved in terrorism confiscated. Cases had been filed against 46 persons over the eight attacks on 21 April 2019, and 11 of them had been indicted, the IGP noted.

Wickramaratne said 46 persons had been produced in High Court over the Easter Sunday attacks, and more than 100 files consisting of 104 volumes that ran into as many as 52,000 pages had been submitted to the AG. He also said steps had been taken to arrest suspects including those who were living overseas.

No mention of ‘mastermind’

Curiously, IGP Wickramaratne did not claim to have arrested the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. The government, however, has said Moulavi Naufer, in custody, masterminded the carnage. Wickramaratne only said Zahran Hashim [the leader of the NTJ] and other suicide bombers who carried out the Ester Sunday attacks were only a small group connected to a big network. A second level of activists including children had been indoctrinated in extremism and psychologically prepared to carry forward extremist campaign.

Who is the leader of this network? An answer to this question may help identify the real mastermind/s of the attacks. The Catholic Church and others believe there was a foreign hand behind the carnage, and, therefore, the question is whether the leader of the network is Sri Lankan or foreign?

The PCoI report on the Easter Sunday bombings, in its Chapter17, Foreign Involvement says:

Several witnesses testified that the attacks were not carried out by Zaharan and his group alone but that there was a foreign hand behind the attacks. However,none of them provided any evidence to assist the COI in inquiring into this aspect other than the mere ipse dixit. The following witnesses impliedly or expressly testified that there is an external hand or conspiracy behind this attack: His Eminence Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, (the then) President Maithripala Sirisena, former Minister Rauf Hakeem, former Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, former Governor Asath Salley, Mujeebur Rahuman M.P., Nilantha Jayawardene, Former Director SIS, M. R. Latiff, SDIG, Commandant of the STF (retired), Ravindra Wijegunaratne, CDS (retired), Senior DIG /CID Mr. Ravi Senevirathne (retired), Shani Abesekera, Director CID (under interdiction)

The PCoI has said that it found no such foreign link but recommended that certain identified parties should be further investigated. Now that the IGP has said Zahran and his partners in crime were only a small part of a bigger network, the question is who led that network.

Attempt to play ball back into critics’ court

IGP Wickramaratne, in his statement, made it clear that the police would not be swayed by social media campaigns and various views being expressed on the Easter Sunday attacks and investigations. The police, he stressed, would keep an open mind in proceeding with their investigations. While claiming to respect the people’s freedom of expression, he issued a veiled warning that those who expressed their opinions on the issue ran the risk of commenting on matters that were sub judice and exposing themselves to the risk of facing legal action.

The IGP invited those who claimed to have more information about the Easter Sunday attacks to make it available to the CID conducting investigations. He, however, said only information that could be used in courts would be useful. His request seems to be an attempt to play the ball back into the court of the critics of the police. In fact, this is the course of action they should adopt because expressing their views and making various claims on social media are of little use technically; information they may have of the attacks should be presented to the CID.

Black flags

What one gathers from the IGP’s statement is that the government and the Police are not willing to commit themselves to a deadline, and the investigations are not going to be over anytime soon despite protests from the Catholic Church. The IGP, however, said the police had realized that they were duty bound to complete the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks for those responsible for them to be brought to justice, in the minimum possible time.

IGP Wickramaratne also said investigations were aimed at not only closing investigations after bringing those responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks to justice but also identifying the factors that led to them and finding whether there are others who will resort to terrorism or other such activities in the future.

The Catholic Church had not responded to the IGP’s speech, at the time of writing. What will be its reaction? Chances are the black flag-protest will not be over anytime soon.


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