Govt admits “major” lapses in its failure to act on intel warnings
With elections due this year, govt is under mounting pressure
Crucial intelligence that could have prevented Sri Lanka’s Easter attacks went ignored in part because of feuding between the country’s leaders, experts say.
The government has admitted “major” lapses in its failure to act on intelligence warnings, and analysts say a longstanding political crisis is to blame.
The warnings were clear: On April 11, Sri Lanka’s police chief issued an alert saying that radical Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) planned suicide bombings of “prominent churches”, citing alerts from a foreign intelligence agency.
The document was addressed to several top officials, but neither the prime minister nor the deputy defence minister were among the recipients.
That comes as little surprise to experts familiar with Sri Lanka’s messy political scene, which has been dominated by wrangling between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena.
With elections due this year, the government is under mounting pressure.
The attempt to shut out Wickremesinghe follows efforts by Sirisena to sack the premier last year. Although the prime minister was eventually reinstated after a court ruling, the bad blood between the two men persists.
Hours after the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 359 people, Wickremesinghe called an urgent meeting of the armed forces chiefs.
But Sirisena was still out of the country on holiday and the military leadership initially refused to attend, saying they answered solely to the president, official sources told AFP.
They only agreed to the request after Wickremesinghe turned up at their headquarters in the defence ministry, the sources added.
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, said, “The leaders are there to protect the people and that they have failed to do and... (people) have paid with their lives. This is criminal negligence.”
‘LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP’
But bickering alone does not explain why Sri Lanka’s security apparatus -- populated by officers with years of experience fighting a decades-long Tamil insurgency -- ignored warnings of an attack.
Political commentator Kusal Perera said the police were familiar with the NTJ and its potential to carry out attacks, referring to a raid in January at a training camp that turned up explosives and detonators.
“Is it only their responsibility to collect intelligence, not question suspects? During the civil war they never waited for the president and prime minister to instruct them before rounding up suspects and interrogating people,” Perera said.
ICG analyst Keenan told AFP that “Sri Lankans have an absolute right to be very angry but the problem is there is no way to hold anyone to account.”
“What you have is a fearful, brokenhearted public who are looking for leadership and not finding it.”