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Head of security had warnings about Sri Lankan Easter bombings 17 days before, claims report

by Cara Bentley

Eight suicide bombers targeted three churches and three hotels on Easter Sunday, 21st April this year, injuring over 400 people.

A report by a Select Committee of Sri Lankan MPs, released on Wednesday, said: "Following the attacks, evidence emerged that prior intelligence information was available regarding the impending attack but that it was not acted upon."

They claim intelligence suggesting the extremist preacher Zahran Hashim was planning an attack on Sri Lanka was received by Nilantha Jayawardena, the director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) on 4th April, 17 days before the deadly attacks.

Jayawardena then informed the Chief of National Intelligence, Sisira Mendis, of the potential attack, who forwarded it to the head of Sri Lankan police four days letter.

Mr Jayawardena said in later evidence: "I expected him to act on it".

Various people then forwarded the information on with little action being taken.

On 9th April, Mr Jayawardena sent a letter marked 'TOP SECRET' to the head of police, including details that Zahran Hashim and his associates were planning to carry out a suicide attack in Sri Lanka and that they were to target some churches.

The Committee said there were delays sharing relevant information and that Director Jayawardena failed to brief the Ministry of Defence in person and said he would send a written update instead.

On 20th April, a day before the attacks, Jayawardena called the head of police, Mr Jayasundere, and said the following day would be dangerous and something would happen.

The head of security also received a WhatsApp message from a source that day, saying: "It is learnt that they are likely to carry out their attack in Sri Lanka at any time on or before 21.04.2019. They have reported the selected eight places include a church and a hotel where Indians inhabiting a large number. Further details awaited".

The Chief of the SIS called the former Defence Secretary on the day of the bombings at 8am and asked him how many Methodist Churches were in Colombo, saying that attackers were likely to target these churches and not Catholic ones.

"I told him I am a Buddhist and I don't know, but I would check with someone and get back to him. I got some information and told him, but within a few minutes I heard that there had been a bomb explosion at one of the hotels," said the former Defence Secretary, Mr. Hemasiri Fernando.

Around fifteen minutes before the first attack on 21st April, 2019 the Director of the SIS received a message that said: "Respected Sir, good morning. They are likely to operate between 0600 hours and 1000 hours today."

"One of their targets is a Methodist Church, Colombo."

The local police did visit the Methodist Church and requested the service to be halted but the service continued.

At 8:45am the Catholic Church of St. Sebastian in Negombo and the Catholic Shrine of St. Anthony in Kotahena were bombed.

In the next half hour, Zion Church in Batticaloa was also hit and five other places of accommodation over the next few hours.

The report adds 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."

The report adds that the State Intelligence Service's failures: "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 Committee highlighted the "need to hold all individuals responsible without further delay."

The full 274 page report is here


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