Sri Lanka admits ‘major’ intelligence lapses; President asks Defence Secretary, top cop to resign

Sri Lanka admits ‘major’ intelligence lapses; President asks Defence Secretary, top cop to resign

Colombo: Sri Lankan govt on Wednesday admitted “major” intelligence lapses led to the horrific Easter Sunday blasts and asked two top security officials to resign, even as the death toll in the coordinated attacks rose to 359 amidst a nationwide manhunt to nab the perpetrators. Nine Suicide bombers, believed to be members of local Islamist extremist group called National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels.

President Maithripala Sirisena has asked Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara to quit after their failure to prevent the blasts despite having prior intelligence. Sirisena on Tuesday night pledged he will make changes in top positions in the security establishment within the next 24 hours, saying the people were questioning why action had not been taken by the top security officials despite the availability of intelligence support from a friendly neighbouring country.

Meanwhile, several people succumbed, taking the toll to 359. “The number of death now is 359,” police spokes­man Ruwan Guanse­kera said. He said the search operations were being carried out and so far 60 people, all Sri Lankan nationals, have been arrested in connection with the attacks. Most arrested people have suspected links to the NTJ, the group blamed for the bombings. However, the NTJ has not claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks and identified the seven suicide bombers who carried out the devastating blasts. Guansekera said there were nine suicide bom­b­ers, including a woman involved in the bombings. “Eight of them have been identified,” he added. Top officials have acknowledged Sri Lanka received intelligence about possible terror strikes ahead of the attacks, but both President Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe have said they did not receive the information. State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene acknowledged there had been “major” lapses in the security arrangements.

“We (the govt) have to take the responsibility,” he said. “Some (the attackers), in earlier incidents, had been taken into custody (after) small skirmishes, but nothing of this magnitude,” Wijewardene told reporters. Wijewardena said the multiple bomb attacks were carried out by a splinter group of the NTJ. The group had differences and the final attack was carried out by a group that left the main NTJ, he added. Local and international media reported India and the US provided specific warnings about terror attacks to Lanka, ahead of the Easter Sunday bombings. However, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz said, “We had no prior knowledge of these attacks.”

Meanwhile, police said as many as 34 foreign nationals who lost their lives have been identified. Of them, 10 are from India, three from Denmark, one each from Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Bangladesh, Spain, two each from China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, six from the UK, two holding the US and the UK nationalities and two holding Australian and Sri Lankan nationalities, officials said. The mortal remains of nine out of 10 Indians have been sent to India, according to the Indian High Commission in Colombo. The police on Wednesday carried out a controlled explosion of a motorcycle parked under suspicious circumstances near a cinema hall in South Colombo.

At a Glance

The terror attacks at the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La Hotels were carried out by two brothers.
The Cinnamon Grand Hotel bomber had booked himself into the hotel on the previous night. CCTV footages have shown his breakfast table where he was seen consum­ing pieces of fruit and taking a walk around the restaurant before exploding himself.
Their younger brother has also been nabbed. The house search had led to the discovery of extremist literature, a computer hard disk and SIM cards, thought to have been used to coordinate the blasts.
Police have already nabbed the accomplices of the bomber of the lodging house near the National Zoo at Dehiwela, a Colombo suburb.
The taxi driver who had taken him to the lodge was also arrested. Police suspected the bomber may have been targeting the nearby St Mary’s Church where a large gathering was present.
However, the presence of police at the church, who were there due to a previous break into the church by thieves, had prevented the bomber’s entry into the church, officials said.


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