A parliamentary report into the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka has blamed the country’s spy chief for not acting on information which could have prevented the attacks.
The report also blamed the President for not showing leadership, as well as extremists within the Muslim and Buddhist communities and the media for stoking religious tensions.
On April 21 this year, suicide bombings that took place in three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka killed around 277 people and wounded more than 400. Subsequent to the attacks, incidents of ethnic violence and tension targeting the Muslim community occurred in several parts of the country.
The report said that the intelligence services and spy chief Nilantha Jayawardena ignored or missed several opportunities to arrest Zahran Hashim, one-time leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath and the main suspect behind the attacks.
The parliamentary committee which produced the report (the PSC) noted that intelligence information related to the attacks was first received by Jayawardena on April 4, but there were delays from his end to share it with the relevant intelligence and security personnel.
“This failure by the SIS (intelligence services) has resulted in hundreds of deaths, many more injured and immeasurable devastation to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans and that must not be treated lightly,” the report said.
More seriously, the report even questioned if the intelligence had been deliberately ignored for political ends.
“The PSC also observes that further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instil fear and uncertainty in the country in the lead up to the Presidential Election to be held later in the year.
“Such a situation would then lead to the call for a change of regime to contain such acts of terrorism. Coincidently or not so coincidentally, the security situation and fear would be unleashed months away from the Presidential Election.”
The PSC also noted the rising extremism in Sri Lanka, blaming some of it on “Wahabism” and “Arabization.”
It said that evidence indicates that Zahran started a campaign to radicalise Muslim youth and motivate them to use violence to achieve their ends after March 2018 attacks on Muslims in the town of Digana.
“PSC observes that several people of Kattankudy and several local Muslim groups made complaints against Zahran as early as 2013/2014 to the authorities. Testimony also showed that investigations had commenced into some of his speeches and activities. The rise in extremism was also in the backdrop of increasing levels of Islamophobia…
“The PSC also observes increasing levels of Wahabism and Arabization in parts of Sri Lanka in recent years. A physical change had taken place in recent years in Kattankudy town with the emergence of Date-Palm Trees and Arabic lettering on public sign boards. The Batticaloa campus buildings also prominently display Arabic architecture and landscape, making it drastically different to any university building in the country…
“The PSC notes that the spread of Wahhabism and the Arabization of Kattankudy contributed to the growth of extremism in the Islamic community especially in the East and must be further investigated.”
The PSC also stated that several politicians made comments subsequent to the Easter Sunday attacks which were inflammatory and irresponsible. It said that speeches that incite hate and racism, by politicians, religious leaders and others, are extremely dangerous and must be independently investigated and individuals held to account.
The report recommended that:
- The Government should sponsor and foster inter-faith dialogue to promote religious harmony, co-existence, mutual respect and create awareness on radicalisation and extremism.
- The Government should improve engagement with community and religious leaders and have a robust system to address concerns raised including early warning of increased extremism.
- State authorities must take immediate action to address the dissemination of misinformation and spread of hate speech inciting violence.
- The state should allocate more funding for conducting research on the root causes of extremism and terrorism and its evolving tactics that would be useful to decision-makers, as well as to security professionals.
The PSC also said that the government must initiate urgent measures to counter growing Islamophobia and the growing fear and suspicion between and within the various communities.
“The PSC observed the spike in hate speech and attacks and speed with which false news spread, especially fake news around sterilization, attacks of Sinhala Buddhist communities and Buddhist places of worship. It is essential to have a comprehensive response to such trends that mitigate further communal disharmony and clashes between communities,” the report added.
“Further, individuals such as religious leaders, politicians and public figures must refrain from using messages of intolerance or expressions which may incite violence between communities. In a country where the Constitution provides for equality of all citizens and there is a legacy of multicultural and religious coexistence, it is essential that all citizen play a responsible role to desist from fanning the flames of ethno-religious tensions. Religious, political and other leaders bear a larger onus in fostering communal harmony, tolerance and respect for the rights and dignity of all citizens.”