– Says terrorism and drugs nexus possibly hastened terror attack
– Calls on people to unite to bring back normalcy
President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday said that he had the fullest confidence that the law and order machinery had the capacity to meet the challenge of terrorism and restore peace and normalcy to the country soon.
Addressing the heads of media and foreign correspondents at the President’s House in Colombo last morning, Sirisena detailed the short- and long-term measures to curb terrorism and restore normalcy.
“A major search operation has been undertaken. Every household in the country will be checked. The list of permanent residents of every house will be established to ensure no unknown persons can live anywhere,” he said, and pointed out that similar methods were adopted during the fight against LTTE terrorism. President Sirisena acknowledged that there was a serious lapse on the part of the Defence Secretary and Inspector General of Police (IGP), who failed to inform him about the intelligence agency letter from a friendly foreign country sent on 4 April, warning about a possible attack.
The letter warned of possible attacks on churches, places of public gatherings and VIPs.
“The IGP had sent that letter to the Staff DIG and it was sent from table to table and finally it was forwarded to DIG Dassanayake of VIP Security, who, in turn, forwarded it to officers in charge of VIPs’ protection. I was not informed. Nor was my security head, nor was the head of Prime Minister’s security informed. Both the Defence Secretary and IGP came to wish me on New Year’s Day (14 April) and they did not say a word about this warning letter. It was a serious lapse on their part and shirking of responsibility,” he said.
The President also claimed that he had only seen the terror threat warnings when they were circulated on social media just hours after the Easter Sunday attacks.
He said that he had asked them to tender their resignations immediately and they had agreed to do so. He added that an appropriate process would be implemented while completely reorganising the security services, including the State Intelligence Service and Intelligence Units of the Police and Tri-forces, to prevent the recurrence of these attacks and lapses.
Speaking about the current operations, raids and arrests of suspects, he praised the law enforcement and intelligence services for their efficiency and dedication in responding to this situation.
“The Government has already been able to crack down on many criminals, suspects and those responsible for the recent attacks, and many arrests have taken place. Therefore, I truly believe that we can avoid a repetition of such gruesome acts of violence in the future,” he said.
“I have already planned necessary actions to build an environment where the people of this country can live freely and without fear in the future.”
Answering a question about the safety of schools and places of worship, the President said that the Government would ensure people could go back to their normal lives feeling safe again.
“We had to declare an Emergency situation to suppress terrorists and ensure a peaceful environment in the country. What have been enacted by Gazette are clauses pertaining to suppressing terrorism only. If these enactments had not been made, the prevalent powers would not be sufficient for the Police to take proactive measures and the Army, Navy and Air Force would not be able to take part actively in the operations,” he said.
The President said that Islamic extremists behind the Easter Sunday bombings had worked under the guidance and leadership of a foreign terrorist organisation to cause an appalling loss of human life.
“Our security services have received reports about this terrorist movement since 2015. It was observed that they were receiving training and certain guidance from foreign terrorist organisations. Our security services were monitoring them and investigating them. However, our security services did not have enough evidence to initiate legal action against them or clear information to be produced at courts,” he said.
Returning to his pet subject in the waning days of his presidency, Sirisena said he even suspected that the attacks had been expedited because of the major campaign he had launched against illicit drugs.
“There is a nexus between international terrorism and the international drug trade. Furthermore, I got staunch support for the anti-drugs campaign from Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who joined us at anti-drug walks. Perhaps the terrorists hastened the attacks on churches for these reasons.”
When asked about proscribing the Islamic militant groups responsible for terror attacks, the President said that could be done under the Emergency laws, but the ban would end when the Emergency was lifted. “I have asked to draft new legislation for proscribing these organisations, and we are studying such laws enacted in Singapore and other countries.”
The President recalled that when LTTE terrorism broke out in the early ’80s, most Sinhala and Muslim people used to look at Tamils as if all of them were terrorists. However, people quickly learned about the LTTE and the fact that not all Tamils were terrorists, and that laid the foundation for the nation to unite for peace.
“I request Sinhala and Tamil people not to look at our country’s Muslim community with suspicion, fear or distrust. You must keep in mind that not all Muslims are terrorists. It is only a very small minority who are linked to such a barbaric terrorist organisation,” he said.
“It is very important therefore, that peace and harmony among Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil communities prevail. We must foster trust and understanding,” he added.
He urged the public to cooperate towards achieving national security.