Former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake says that decision making authorities should treat all nationalities equally and that it would be impossible to prevent the country from separatism if decisions are not taken without political interference.
Testifying online before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday Bombing from UAE he said that he was not informed of the advance notice received by Nilantha Jayawardena, former director of State Intelligence Service, from a foreign intelligence unit that the group including the leader of Tawheed Jamaat, Saharan Hashim, could launch a terrorist attack.
When he was asked by the Commission whether the director of SIS had commented on that specific intel at the intelligence review meeting held on 9th April 2019, Mr. Senanayake said that no such revelation was made at that meeting.
Meanwhile, the Commission questioned Mr. Senanayake regarding the bomb blast on a motorcycle in the Kattankudy area on 16th April 2019, and he said he was aware of the incident on the same day.
Mr. Senanayake said that he immediately had the feeling that this could be an experiment and doing of Saharan and others.
It had been discussed at the National Security Council at the time that Saharan and his group were involved in extremist activities in the Eastern Province and therefore he had instructed the relevant officials to carry out immediate investigations and report the matter, Mr. Senanayake said.
When asked if he had received any information that there might be a terrorist attack on Easter Sunday, he said he had not received any such information at all. The Former Army Commander said that he should have been informed in the first place as it’s the Army that has the ability to deal with such a situation.
He added that after the attack on several hotels in Colombo on 21st April 2019, the officers informed him and had taken action to deploy army personnel to those locations. He further said that as soon as he came to know about the incident, he knew that it was doing of Saharan and his group,
“I met Jayawardena at the Ministry of Defense after the attack. He was very disappointed. He informed me that there was a possibility of two more attacks. He was very worried that the attacks couldn’t be prevented, despite the prior information received,” Mr. Senanayake said.
Former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake said that the Sri Lanka Army should implement a separate unit to investigate issues related to Islamic State ideology and it is very important to maintain it.
Members of the Commission questioned whether the then Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijeywardena had the authority to issue orders to the Army during Mr. Senanayake’s tenure as the Army Commander, he replied that he did not.
He said that if there was any order, it was only from the President or the Secretary of Defense.
Answering a question by the Commission whether he had a good relationship with the then Defense Secretaries Kapila Wijeyratne and Hemasiri Fernando as the Army Commander, he said that he had a good relationship with the Defense Secretaries.
Mr. Senanayake also said that there was no need to seek the approval from the President to implement orders from the Defense Secretary. He also testified that there is no restriction to implement order directly from the Defense Secretary.
He pointed out that intelligence regiments affiliated to the Army had carried out intelligence operations and analyzing information on matters related to the Islamic State and several other issues, and it is very important to continue that.
He said that former President Maithripala Sirisena had instructed him via Defense Minister Hemasiri Fernando, not to attend the meeting convened by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe following the Easter bombing on Sunday.
He also said that he had already taken actions as the Army Commander to implement many of the issues that had to be discussed at the meeting.
“It was necessary to pay more attention to avoid further attacks other than discussing. All the steps towards that were already taken.” He said.
When the Commission asked whether he asked Nilantha Jayawardena for the reason he did not inform him on the intel received on the attack, Mr. Senanayake said he felt that Mr. Jayawardena did not have a reasonable answer for it. “He spoke to me to wish on Sinhala and Hindu New year but never mentioned anything like this.” He further said that he still cannot figure out a reason for Mr. Nilantha to keep that information from him.
He also said that if the Army Intelligence Directorate received that relevant intelligence information, he would have taken necessary steps to develop and confirm it.
Testifying before the Commission, Mr. Senanayake said that an extremist group taking law into their hands against another extremist group cannot be justified in a civilized society and that would lead to many complications.
He said the country is facing many issues as the decision making authorities do not act in a neutral manner by misleading people, and that separatism would re-emerge in the country in near future, especially due to Sinhala and Tamil extremist organizations. He further stated that he had reported the matter to the relevant authorities since the time he was serving as the Army Commander.