Onus on AG to file charges on Easter attack suspects: Weerasekara

Wednesday, 7 April 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Chamal Rajapaksa blames Police Dept. for failing to prevent attack and failing to take action following early signs
  • IGP directed to expedite taking disciplinary action against Police officers for negligence of duties 
  • Weerasekera says mastermind behind Easter Sunday attack was Naufer Moulavi
  • AG will expedite 32 individuals held on terrorism charges related to the incident 
  • Says panel has not objected to the ban on BBS and Thowheed groups

By Asiri Fernando

The Government plans to indict 32 suspects together on terrorism and related charges for their involvement in the Easter Sunday bombings, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekara said yesterday, outlining a slew of measures in the pipeline to address extremism. 

He also said the Government was convinced that the suspect known as Naufer Moulavi, who is in custody, is the mastermind behind the 2019 attack. 

According to MP Weerasekara, the Government believes that Naufer Moulavi, based in Qatar for a period, indoctrinated Zahran and aided him to teach an extremist ideology to the followers. Another suspect, Hajjul Akbar, aided in the indoctrination, Weerasekara added.  The Government has taken action to repatriate 54 suspects wanted in relation to the bombing and 50 of them have been repatriated thus far, Weerasekara added. According to Weerasekara, 75 suspects related to the bombings are being held under detention orders by the Police, while 211 are held in remand custody. 

Addressing a special press conference, MP Weerasekara stated that all relevant reports and documentation from the presidential and parliamentary inquiries into the bombings have been given to the Attorney General›s (AG) Department for legal action to be taken. “Now it is up to the AG›s Department to expedite legal action against the perpetrators,” Weerasekara said. 

Responding to criticism about delays in filing charges against the alleged perpetrators, Weerasekara argued that the AG›s Department needed time to prepare charges based on the evidence available and that the State needs to ensure they had a strong case without loopholes that may allow defence lawyers to discredit the charges. 

Weerasekara also stated that forensic audits of funding for extremist activities were time-consuming due to the need to work with many foreign states, banks and jurisdictions to find out how funds were transferred. 

“Some suspects have retained the services of some of the best lawyers in the country. So the AG needs to have an ironclad case with no loopholes that defence lawyers can exploit,” Weerasekara said, pointing out that some of the suspects of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US are still in custody without charges. 

The six-member ministerial panel appointed to study the recommendations made by the inquiries into the Easter Sunday bombings has submitted their report to the President, Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said at the press conference. 

In February this year, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a six-member committee to study in-depth the final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry  (PCI) into the Easter Sunday bombings and the report of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security which had been submitted to Parliament. 

The Committee is headed by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa included Ministers Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena, and was tasked to submit their recommendation by 15 March. Presidential Secretariat Director-General (Legal) Hariguptha Rohanadheera PC was appointed as the Secretary to the Committee. 

MP Chamal Rajapaksa stated that the attack was preventable had law enforcement and the then Government took action when early signs of violent extremism were detected. Rajapaksa blamed the Police Department for failing to take the necessary steps to contain and arrest a growing problem before it reached the level of suicide bombers. 

Rajapaksa stressed that the Government had no need to protect anyone involved in the bombings and questioned why some in the Yahapalanaya Government were quick to criticise MP Wijedasa Rajapaksa›s speech in Parliament, warning of radicalisation and extremist groups in 2016. “Several persons criticised him in Parliament and some groups did so in the media, what were their intentions? Were they trying to protect someone?” Rajapaksa questioned.   

“We need to take action soon. One issue that can be addressed soon is disciplinary action against Police officers for negligence in performing their duties. One of the recommendations that the panel has made is for the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to take disciplinary action against Police officers who failed to act properly when the early signs were detected or failed to identify them,” Rajapaksa said. 

He argued that the group of bombers could have been netted if the Police had properly executed its role in the build up to the Easter Sunday bombings.  

The defacing of Buddha statues in Mawanella, the explosives stash in Wanthavilluwa and the double murder of two Police constables in the line of duty in Vavunathivu, Batticaloa in November 2018, were all missed opportunities to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings, MP Rajapaksa opined.  

Public Security Minister Weerasekara also said that the group responsible for the Easter Sunday bombings had carried out eight violent incidents prior to the April 2019 bombings and blamed the Police and the then Government for not addressing the issue early. 

Rajapaksa stated that the panel has made recommendations to be implemented by the Department of Police, Immigration, and Ministry of Education and will also submit a set of recommendation for legislative changes needed to the Parliament. Both MPs stated that legislative changes and procedural changes will be necessary to ensure that such violent incidents do not happen in the future. 

When questioned about the Madrasa religious schools issues, both MPs said that there needs to be some regulation of the institutions and that recommendations have been made to the Ministry of Education to address the matter. 

Responding to a question, Mass Media Minister and Cabinet Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said that the Government will not object or interfere with any decision by the AG regarding taking legal action against any individual, including former President and SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena. MP Rajapaksa added that the panel has no objections against the recommendations by the PCI to ban the controversial Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Thowheed Jamath groups.

The panel has also recommended that the recently restructured Criminal Investigation Department (CID) recall a number of retired officers with exceptional service records to act as mentors for new officers and to streamline networking with other local and international agencies.