SIS Director knew Zahran had capacity to attack | Sunday Observer
Former PM, Law and Order Minister to appear before PCoI

SIS Director knew Zahran had capacity to attack

Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardene
Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardene

For over a year the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks has heard evidence of law enforcement officials, catholic clergy and members of the public to reveal the reasons and the background of the heinous bombings that devastated the nation.

This week, perhaps the most high profile witnesses to appear before the Commission since its inception will take the stand after the Commission issued notice to former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene and former Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake.

Accordingly, on Friday (21) Wickremesinghe and Ratnayake are expected to appear before the Commission while Wijewardene has been called to present himself before the Commission on Tuesday (18).

Summons

The summons to the top officials of the former government come as the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Ali Sabry PC assured this week that every person involved in the Easter Sunday attacks will be brought before the law. “No one from the Muslim community is more sincere than I to eliminate extremists, as Muslims cannot live in peace until the extremists and terrorists are eliminated,” he said. Sabry has vowed to have anyone involved in the attacks produced in court and punished.

The Commission proceedings continued on Friday (14) putting former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardene in the hot seat for the eleventh consecutive day. While most of his evidence over the week were closed to the media and the public on Friday, the media was permitted to hear his statement where he was grilled by the Commission on SIS having prior knowledge of a possible attack by Zahran Hashim and the group.

In a startling revelation, Jayawardene admitted that he was aware that terror mastermind Zahran Hashim already had the physical and mental capacity to carry out the attacks when the local law enforcement was informed of an impending suicide attack by a foreign intelligence agency. Jayawardene was responding to a question posed by an Additional Solicitor General, asking Jayawardene whether the SIS already had information on the attackers when the foreign intelligence service informed his unit of the same.

“Following the Mawanella incident we already knew that Zahran Hashim’s technical equipment was used abroad,” he said. “Though we did pay attention to this fact we did not receive the reports from the relevant units” he claimed.

According to Jayawardene at the Intelligence review meeting held on March 19, 2019 on the request of the then Chief of National Intelligence, he presented information on Zahrahn Hashim, the Christ Church attacks and the activities of the National Thowheed Jamath. “I even presented information on how those involved with the Islamic State (IS) had returned to Sri Lanka,” he said. Jayawardene said after his presentation, he also provided information given by the Military Intelligence (MI). “According to that information Zahran was believed to have fled overseas,” he said. When questioned by the Commission if as the Director of the SIS he believed this information provided, Jayawardene said they did not have sufficient information to accept this piece of information.

However, he said in the following MI report on March 23 it was yet again mentioned that Zahran Hashim was no longer in the country. “But in the same report it claimed that Zahran was still residing in the country,” he said adding that this caused some confusion.

Repeated statements

According to Jayawardene on March 26 and 27 he had called in the intelligence officer who reported that Zahran had fled and requested his support to clarify this issue. Referring to repeated statements made previously by Jayawardene claiming that the SIS does not maintain that Zahran Hashim had fled abroad, the Commission pointed out that Jayawardene’s statement on Friday was contradictory. Jayawardene said the statement he made earlier was based on the reports he had received by January 2019 but that this information was received by him in March that year. “I am not changing my stance,” he said.

Jayawardene was also asked if he decided that the information received on April 4, 2019, from a foreign intelligence service of an impending attack was legitimate. “We obtained the information and assessed the possibility,” he said. The Commission then questioned Jayawardene whether he believed Zahran Hashim could possibly launch such an attack. “Not only physically, mentally too they were capable of this” he said.

The Commission then pointed out that Jayawardene on a previous occasion had admitted that after the discovery of explosives in Wanathawilluwa in 2019 it was revealed Zahran Hashim had the physical ability to launch an attack. “In other words, when you received the warning on April 4, 2019 you already knew that he had the physical capability to launch an attack?” a Commission member questioned.

“After discovering the explosives in Wanathawilluwa in January we were not aware if they still had or lost the capability to launch an attack” he responded.

The Commission asked Jayawardene if the SIS did not suspect that the group had weapons and explosives in other locations. “We did not investigate that. Other investigation units may have looked into this,” he said. But coming down hard on Jayawardene the Commission then asked if he had already concluded that there was no possibility of weapons existing in other locations. While Jayawardene denied this, the commission once again asked Jayawardene if he knew the group had the physical capability to launch an attack.

“Yes we did” he said. “Then what more did you need to find out when you received the information of an attack on April 4, 2019?” the Commission asked the former SIS Chief. Jayawardene maintained that he received the information only at 10.40 am and by 10.48 am he had informed his officers to submit a written report on the matter.

According to Jayawardene, he then received a report on April 5 and on the same day SIS officers were sent to the relevant areas. “They submitted an initial investigation report by 12 pm on the day” he said adding that accordingly IGP Pujit Jayasundara was informed of a possible attack. “The Chief of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defence were also briefed on April 7,” he said.

Jayawardene also said SIS officers were deployed and continued to gather information from the areas. Jayawardene was ordered once again to appear before the Commission tomorrow (17).

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