- Sirisena says terror attacks took place during tenures of his predecessors too
- Developed countries too face similar threats
- Will take steps to wipe terrorism from SL
- Says security forces restructured, NSC briefings opened up to new people
- Outlines tasks undertaken to restore normalcy
- 13 safe houses and 41 bank accounts found, all terror assets to be frozen
- Calls for Muslim community not to be victimised over attacks
By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent
President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday told Parliament that international terrorism was “unpredictable and unavoidable”, but he had done everything in his power to restructure the Police and military to face the new challenge, restore normalcy, open the National Security Council meetings to a wider range of stakeholders, and give orders to eradicate terror from Sri Lanka.
According to Sirisena, not even developed nations with state-of-the-art technology and military power can avoid an attack, but are left to hunt down terrorists after an attack takes place.
Joining the adjournment debate on the current situation of the country after the unexpected terrorist attack on Easter Sunday, the President stated that all possible measures have been taken to increase national security to fight against international terrorism.
“Some Sri Lankans have forgotten that we lived with bombs for 30 years. So, 21 April is not the first ever bomb explosion in Sri Lanka. And it is due to international terrorism. I am the sixth President, and bombs exploded during the tenure of previous Presidents. The 9/11 attacks in the US killed 2,700 people on site. But still, the United States is unable to give the exact number of people who died. The terrorists also attacked the Pentagon. None of the powerful nations can stop attacks on their soil. They can only counter-attack the terrorists’ bases after the devastation. However, I praise President Putin for standing strong against terrorism,” he said.
President Sirisena, explaining to Parliament how he gained knowledge on international terrorism after the Easter Sunday attacks, held that he will not refer to the Islamic State or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by the letters IS or ISIS, following an example set by former US President Barack Obama.
“During the last 10 days, I gained knowledge by reading on international terrorism. But I will not use the two letters to identify this terrorist body. None of the world leaders use these letters. Using these letters will give indirect acceptance of this terrorist organisation. According to former US President Barack Obama, we should not use the letters to identify the terrorists. This terrorism is developed against Western thinking. So, they are against the holy cross and Christianity. They will first go against the white men and the countries of white people, along with Christians. The terrorists will claim victory only after raising their flag in the Vatican,” he said.
Getting back to the measures he took after the explosions, President Sirisena held that he has appointed new heads to a range of military and police units, while opening the doors of the National Security Council for lawmakers from both sides, experts, and also clergy, starting with Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.
“I got to know about the attack around 10.00 a.m., while I was in Singapore. I was shocked and was in pain. I was unable to make out how it took place. I was unable to see the involvement of an international terrorist organisation. Then I was shown a letter issued by a DIG, circulating on social media. Having seen this letter, I thought the security divisions had prior knowledge. Before returning to Sri Lanka, I made arrangements to appoint a committee to investigate the matter, and have spoken to the Prime Minister as well as the security chiefs,” he held.
During the last 10 days, President Sirisena met foreign diplomats in Colombo, held a multi-political party meeting anda multi-religious party meeting, and met with intellectuals, the tourism industry, business leaders, private media heads, and the Governors of the nine Provinces, in order to explain the situation and search for a solution.
“I invited many to the Security Council meetings. It is no longer a closed meeting. The Members of Cabinet were there for these meetings, the Opposition lawmakers were also present, and I am taking certain other people to National Security Council meetings. We have changed key positions in the Ministry of Defence, and have also established an operations centre. In addition to eradicating the public fear, we have captured some of the terrorists. People should be happy about the security status, and it is acceptable to many,” said Sirisena.
During the raids carried out, 12 suspects believed to have direct involvement with the terrorists were arrested. The security forces have also located 103 detonators, 236 gelignite sticks, 250kg of crystal powders used for bomb-making, 13 safe houses used by terrorists, 15 motor vehicles, four motorcycles,as well as 41 bank accounts which were frozen.
“The properties of all those who are involved will be confiscated. These terrorist have paid Rs.2 million for each individual who supported them. We were able to locate Rs.18 million of such fund distributions. Soon after the explosions, the leader of the international terrorist body took responsibility. The leader who was believed to be dead four years ago surfaced suddenly to accept responsibility. Now the foreign intelligence experts in Sri Lanka are stunned to see the terrorist alive. Anyway, I have given orders to eradicate terrorism, and destroy all related people. All political leaders, including the Prime Minister and religious leaders of the country, are responsible. We need to understand the status of the Muslim people. The Sinhalese don’t trust the Muslims, and the Muslims are scared the Sinhalese would attack them. It may have affected the Tamils. According to intelligence reports, this terrorist organisation has 150 or fewer activists in the country. If so, why should we put all other Muslims into this terrorism? We have experience from a 30-year war,” he added.
According to the President, media should act responsibly during a crisis. Blaming social media, President held that he was compelled to take action to prevent false information from spreading.
Reminding the House of the origins of the LTTE, President Sirisena said: “The Sinhalese suspected all Tamils to be terrorists. Black July 1983 destroyed Tamils’ wealth and lives, and led their youngsters to join the LTTE. The distrust on Tamils led the war for 30 years. We all should act to eradicate suspicion. Please don’t look at Muslims the way you looked at Tamils. When you go to a Muslim village, we see many Muslim youths. We need to protect them. I have instructed the security forces to protect them. We are revamping the security forces and the intelligence community. I took over the Police four months ago. I have started curbing drugs, I meet the forces on a daily basis.” (AH)