Easter Sunday carnage: Vital aspect overlooked



Tuesday 26th March, 2024

Former President Maithripala Sirisena, who declared last Friday that he was aware of the identity of the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday terror attacks, made a statement to the CID yesterday. His political opponents are baying for his blood; among them are those who were in the Yahapalana government at the time of the carnage. Some of them have even called for grisly penalties for Sirisena, such as drawing and quartering!

The ongoing political battle over the Easter Sunday terror mastermind’s identity, conspiracy theories involving local politicians, the vilification of Sirisena, etc., have eclipsed a critical dimension of the carnage—the possibility of an external involvement. Instances of bloody conflicts, uprisings, terror attacks and other forms of shocks being used to make feeble economies scream and jolt the developing countries, caught up in the great power rivalry, out of their strategic alliances and to engineer radical geopolitical shifts are not rare.

As for the Easter Sunday attacks, there are two major schools of thought. One is that they were engineered to catapult national security to the centre stage of politics in favour of wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was planning to run for President in 2019. Gotabaya announced his candidature a few days after the carnage. The other school of thought is that there was a foreign hand in the Easter Sunday carnage, and the conspirators sought to destabilise Sri Lanka to compass their geopolitical ends.

The PCoI (Presidential Commission of Inquiry), which probed the Easter Sunday attacks, dealt with the alleged foreign involvement perfunctorily. Only an eight-page chapter in its bulky report has been devoted to the claim of a foreign hand in the attacks. The witnesses who expressly testified that there was ‘an external hand or conspiracy behind the attacks’, according to the PCoI, are Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, former President Maithripala Sirisena, former Minister Rauf Hakeem, former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, former Governor Azath Salley, SJB MP Mujibur Rahman, former SIS Director SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena, former STF Commandant M. R. Lateef, former Chief of Defence Staff Ravindra Wijegunaratne, former SDIG CID Ravi Seneviratne and former CID Director Shani Abeysekera. Dismissing their statements as mere ipse dixits (assertions made but not proven), the PCoI has said, in its report, that it did not find any such foreign link. It has, however, recommended that certain identified parties be further investigated. This recommendation has not been implemented.

We argued, prior to the release of the PCoI report, that it was possible that Zahran and his gang had taken orders from a fake ISIS created by a foreign spy agency. The PCoI has quoted SDIG Jayawardena as saying that an Indian named Abu Hind ‘may have triggered the attacks’: “He [Jayawardena] went on to imply that the intelligence agencies that provided him with the intelligence on 4th, 20th and 21st April 2019 may have had a hand in the attack.” According to the PCoI report an ‘international expert on terrorism, who testified in camera, said, “Abu Hind was a character created by a section of a provincial Indian intelligence apparatus, and the intelligence that the Director SIS received on the 4th, 20th and 21st April 2019 was from this operation and the intelligence operative pretending to be one Abu Hind. Operatives of this outfit operate on social media pretending to be Islamic State figures. They are trained to run virtual personas.” The PCoI report says, “The testimony was that Zahran believed Abu Hind was the Islamic State regional representative. Abu Hind was in touch with both Zahran and his brother, Rilwan, and had spoken to Naufer. This part of the evidence is confirmed by the testimony of Hadiya [Zahran’s wife].” It is mentioned on page 220 of the report that according to the aforesaid international expert, ‘the Indian Central Government was not aware of the intelligence obtained by the provincial outfit’.

The allegation that there was a conspiracy behind the Easter Sunday attacks to enable the SLPP to capture state power must be probed. Similarly, there is a pressing need for a thorough investigation to find out whether an external force was behind the carnage.