Easter Attack Puzzle: On ex-CID Chief’s Latest Remarks

Seneviratne's blatant lack of even basic knowledge about Islamic State terrorists is truly lamentable.
by A Special Correspondent

Retired Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ravi Seneviratne, barefacedly took centre stage on a private television program Monday, the 18 September, where he decided to share his supposed insights on the Easter attack investigations. It’s as if his comments were nothing more than a flimsy attempt to shroud the meticulous neglect of his responsibilities. The journalist moderating the program seemed to lack a comprehensive grasp of the subject matter, but at least they made an effort—a commendable one at that.

File photo: Churches under tight security in the aftermath of the Easter bombings in 2019.

However, most of the questions raised were regurgitated opinions from various social media sources, completely ignoring the hard-hitting facts meticulously detailed in the investigative reports surrounding this tragic event. Grilling a leading criminal investigator of this nation necessitates a profound understanding of the subject matter. Given that Mr. Seneviratne was the primary responsible public official overseeing the investigation of a large-scale massacre within our borders, it is imperative that his statements be held accountable. Yet, when confronted with pressing issues, Mr. Seneviratne craftily attempted to deflect blame, shifting responsibility onto others.

Nevertheless, it is imperative to scrutinize the fabrications and half-truths peddled by Mr. Seneviratne. Furthermore, it appears that his understanding of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State is astoundingly shallow. He mentioned an incident involving an Army intelligence member’s phone being investigated via an EMI number but abruptly halted due to higher orders—a case of “seeing is believing.” The cessation of this operation was necessitated by the sensitivity of the intelligence activities involved.

Mr. Seneviratne’s casual reference to this incident is akin to the damage caused by the reckless disclosure of information related to the Sonic-Sonic intelligence operation and its personnel. For a significant period, Army Intelligence had been conducting surveillance on Jameel, a key figure on their list when they were tracking extremists connected to the Easter bombings. Consequently, Army Intelligence officers visited Jameel’s residence in search of him, likely because they traced the phone connected to him to his home. Though the intention was to apprehend Jameel, the mission failed. It’s essential to realize that divulging the identity of the officer responsible for this operation would serve no purpose except to aid the enemy.

Mr. Seneviratne’s blatant lack of even basic knowledge about Islamic State terrorists is truly lamentable. When the Islamic State terrorists declared their caliphate on June 29, 2014, extremist groups across the globe pledged allegiance. At that time, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the then-leader of the Islamic State terrorists, articulated three fundamental demands: urging individuals to join their cause, eliminating unbelievers, particularly Westerners, Catholics, and idolaters, and garnering support for the Islamic State from their home countries. Failing to grasp these fundamental demands, Mr. Seneviratne’s comprehension of the organization and its ideologically motivated adherents falls gravely short.

However, Mr. Seneviratne unequivocally stated that no direct dealings between the Easter attack perpetrators and the Islamic State had occurred. He affirmed that this brutal assault was executed by a group deeply inspired by the ideology of the Islamic State. Through repeated investigations, it has been consistently confirmed that Naufar Maulavi was the mastermind behind the Easter attack, actively promoting the ideology of the Islamic State during his time in Qatar. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) corroborated this assertion. Regrettably, some individuals have twisted Mr. Seneviratne’s statement.

One critical point emphasized by Mr. Seneviratne is the customary practice of shifting responsibility to the Criminal Investigation Division after a crime has been committed. Even if we accept this as an absolute truth, can Mr. Seneviratne absolve himself of responsibility by merely acknowledging it? What is the status of the investigations into the eleven major incidents perpetrated by these extremists leading up to the Easter attack if investigations are only initiated after the crime has occurred? Did the Criminal Investigation Division’s failure to thoroughly investigate these incidents contribute to the inability to prevent the Easter attack?

Another crucial aspect worth noting is that during the Yahapalana Government, President Maithripala Sirisena orally ordered that all intelligence gathered by various agencies be shared with the Criminal Investigation Division for further scrutiny. In line with this verbal directive, not only the State Intelligence Service but also the Directorate of Military Intelligence forwarded their intelligence reports to Mr. Ravi Seneviratne. Allegations persist that Mr. Seneviratne failed to conduct meaningful investigations into the grave matters outlined in these reports. It is rumoured that certain intelligence reports were only opened after the Easter attack had already transpired.

Mr. Seneviratne has asserted that no charges have been levelled against the Criminal Investigation Division in any of the commissions or Supreme Court judgments scrutinizing the Easter attack. This is an indisputable fact, and there’s a rationale behind it. Remarkably, these commissions were singularly dedicated to scrutinizing reports exclusively linked to criminal activities issued by officers within the formidable Criminal Investigation Division. Consequently, the resounding outcome emerges – the Criminal Investigation Division has resolutely vindicated itself, unequivocally absolving all allegations hurled its way. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Mr. Ravi Seneviratne’s grave negligence played a pivotal role in creating the alleged political conspiracy surrounding these events.

Discussing the Vavunathivu incident, Mr. Seneviratne made an outrageous claim that it was only after the Easter attack that the Criminal Investigation Division learned it was the handiwork of Zahran. This is an outright falsehood. On April 12, 2019, the Directorate of Military Intelligence forwarded an intelligence report to him, explicitly attributing the Vavunathivu attack to Zahran. Additionally, the State Intelligence Service had provided Mr. Seneviratne with crystal-clear reports detailing Zahran’s activities and his associates. Shockingly, none of these reports appeared to spur any meaningful action.  

Following the discovery of explosives in the Lactowatta in Wanathawilluwa, when his teams arrived on the scene, Mr. Seneviratne insinuated that the presence of military intelligence was suspicious. It appears that Mr. Seneviratne chose to obscure the truth in this instance. It is factual that members of military intelligence were present, but it was Mr. Seneviratne and his team who ordered them to vacate the area immediately and refrain from interfering in any aspect of their investigations. Had there been cooperation between intelligence agencies, even if just in this instance, the Easter attack might have been averted. It is both unethical and literal nonsense to take on the mantle of responsibility while failing to achieve anything worthwhile.

In his comments, Mr. Seneviratne mentioned the acquisition of an international warrant for Zahran’s arrest, which comes as a surprise. No such international warrant has been reported in the public media to date. If such a warrant existed, it should have been disclosed earlier. Moreover, the State Intelligence Service’s report dated April 9, 2019, provided explicit details about Zahran and his associates planning the attack, targeting churches and hotels, with the potential for suicide bombings. Mr. Seneviratne received these reports, so why did he not bring them to the forefront of his attention?

It is entirely false and misleading to assert that Sri Lanka’s intelligence services remained silent until India provided information. In fact, over 200 explicit intelligence reports by the State Intelligence Service alone regarding the activities of Zahran and other extremists were conveyed to relevant authorities, including the Inspector General of Police, Defence Secretary, and Ravi Seneviratne as the head of Criminal Investigation Division. India merely corroborated information collected through their sources, such as a tech avatar like Abu Hind, using intelligence provided by Sri Lanka’s own agencies for an extended period. Accusations that the country’s intelligence agencies shirked their responsibilities are entirely baseless and serve as a smokescreen to deflect accountability elsewhere.

The State Intelligence Service dutifully carried out its responsibilities, though the media largely failed to spotlight it. Mr. Seneviratne and his associates worked diligently to exploit this narrative to the fullest extent, to the point where even the Supreme Court’s judgment falsely purported that the State Intelligence Service had been ordered to cease its investigation into Zahran. This is unequivocally untrue; no such directive was ever issued by the State Intelligence Service.

Many of the claims made by Mr. Seneviratne seem to be in conflict with one another. For example, he asserted that his investigations had cleared a specific lawyer of any involvement in the Easter attack. However, it’s worth noting that two high-ranking officials, including the treasurer, were identified as suicide bombers in the Easter attack, and they were associated with the organization founded by that same lawyer. Additionally, it’s alleged that the lawyer in question disposed of his mobile phones prior to his arrest. Even if we assume that these investigations were carried out accurately, it raises questions about whether political interests took precedence over uncovering the truth, especially considering that this individual had been released on bail. Furthermore, it is important to mention that Zahran’s wife, Hadiya, reaffirmed the strong connection maintained by this lawyer with her husband.

Our understanding of criminal investigation extends beyond merely reporting information about a single incident; it involves conducting thorough inquiries that link facts and events to understand the individuals involved. Mr. Seneviratne’s comments, however, seem to imply that he attempted to wash his hands not only of the Easter attack but also of preceding incidents. Do individuals in such high-ranking positions fail to comprehend the magnitude of tragedy faced by a nation when collective responsibility is disregarded? Even though the head of state intelligence confirmed receiving the text message reportedly sent to Mr. Ravi Seneviratne on the evening of April 20, 2019, why did no measures ensue for the safety of the country’s people? It is perplexing that the commissions’ representatives failed to scrutinize this glaring lapse in Mr. Seneviratne’s actions in any of their reports on the Easter attack investigations.

It is evident that the responsible officials, including Mr. Seneviratne, have gravely neglected their duty to combat the rampant spread of violent extremism within the country. However, the blame cannot be placed solely on their shoulders; it’s indicative of the overall confusion and deliberate negligence within state apparatus and political leadership. The Defense Secretary’s assertion, “I knew it would be hit, but I didn’t think it would be hit like this,” the politician’s statement, “Dad said the churches will be bombed tomorrow,” and the conduct of His Eminence Ranjith Cardinal Malcolm, who held prayers in his private residence rather than attending Easter church service, all illustrate symptoms of a deeply flawed social system.

None of them seem willing to comprehend or address the plight of the vulnerable population or the underlying social realities driving such extremism. Consequently, to obscure the actual truth behind these issues, they are often attributed to conspiracies, and select individuals attempt to scapegoat to substantiate their views. It should come as no surprise if those who supported the actual wrongdoers, while witnessing this absurd trend, are fostering an environment for potential future attacks. Is the recent attack on traditional Muslims by Wahhabists in Weligama last Friday a forewarning of such a bleak prospect?

Source: The Leader