Serious lapses in intelligence led to the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed 269 people, according to a Sri Lankan parliamentary report, which said the country’s spy chief was ultimately responsible for the failure to prevent the attacks.
The report reinforced criticism of the state’s intelligence apparatus from the Catholic Church’s Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who said in July many lives would have been saved if he had been informed of the potential threat.
The damning 272-page report released Oct. 23 found that Nilantha Jayawardena, the former head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), knew of possible attacks as early as April 4, nearly three weeks before the actual bombings took place but was slow to share the intelligence with relevant parties, including Cardinal Ranjith who is the archbishop of Colombo.
Although Jayawardena was asked on April 9 to quickly share details of the warning he had received with a committee of leading intelligence officials, he failed to do so promptly, the report said.
The report also said the SIS only told the military about the threat on April 19 and that Jayawardena waited until the next day to call the national police chief to say there was a high probability an attack on April 21.
In addition, the report said Mohamed Zahran, an extremist preacher, who allegedly led the eight other terrorists in blowing themselves up on April 21, had been known to authorities since 2015 and that he was subject to an arrest warrant issued for him in March 2017.
Jayawardena allegedly continued to receive information from sources about the threat right up to the day of the attack, with one source warning Jayawardena at 8.27 am that the attacks were likely to take place between 6am and 10am and that one of the targets was a Methodist church in Colombo.
The attacks on three churches and three hotels began shortly after.
The first took place at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo 18 minutes later, while the other targets were hit within the next hour.
According to the nine-member Parliamentary Select Committee that issued the report the intelligence services did not fulfill its obligations properly.
It also said the extent of the intelligence and police failings raised the question as to whether the failure to stop the attacks could have been deliberate.
“Further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instill fear and uncertainty,” it said.
No evidence was provided in the report that officials failed to act to stop the attacks for political reasons.
The select committee chairman Ananda Kumarasiri also criticized intelligence officials of keeping Cardinal Ranjith in the dark.
The Catholic prelate has said if he had known of the threat he would have taken steps to protect lives by closing churches.
Back in July he also questioned whether there has been a cover up in the wake of the attacks.
“We need a thorough inquiry as to how it happened, why it happened and who the people are who are behind it — and also why the government preferred to ignore [it]. So, all those things must be looked into. It’s a matter of justice,” Cardinal Ranjith told the National Catholic Register in an interview.
He also said he doubted justice would be done for the victims.