Feud between Sri Lanka’s president and PM blamed for intelligence blunder that allowed attacks

The father of two of the Easter suicide bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons, Sri Lanka’s former navy chief said.

Jayanath Colombage, who now is a counter-terrorism expert at the Pathfinder Foundation, confirmed the arrest today. 

He said millionaire spice trader, Yoonus Ibrahim who is the father of Inshaf and Ilham Ibrahim, had been arrested for helping the pair.

Crucial intelligence that could have prevented the Easter attacks went ignored in part because of feuding between the country’s leaders, experts also confirmed today. 

It emerged the some of the terrorists were under surveillance four months before the attacks, but there was not ‘sufficient’ evidence to arrest the suspects, Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesingh told CNN.

The brothers calmly walked into the luxury Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo on Easter Sunday and detonated their suicide vests as guests were eating breakfast. 

Ilham Ibrahim pictured in a suspected video by radical Islamist group National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ)

Ilham Ibrahim pictured in a suspected video by radical Islamist group National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ)

Ilham Ibrahim pictured in a suspected video by radical Islamist group National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ) 

Inshaf Ibrahim (pictured) was on of the Sri Lanka suicide bombers who attacked the luxury Cinnamon Grand Hotel on Easter Sunday

Inshaf Ibrahim (pictured) was on of the Sri Lanka suicide bombers who attacked the luxury Cinnamon Grand Hotel on Easter Sunday

His brother Ilham Ibrahim (pictured) detonated his suicide vest at the Shangri-La Hotel as guests ate their breakfast

His brother Ilham Ibrahim (pictured) detonated his suicide vest at the Shangri-La Hotel as guests ate their breakfast

Suicide bomber brothers Inshaf Ibrahim (left) and Ilham Ibrahim (right) calmly walked into the luxury Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels on Easter Sunday morning and detonated their vests, killing guests having their breakfast

A man believed to be Inshaf Ibrahim (pictured in baseball cap with a rucksack) captured on CCTV appearing to hesitate before blowing himself up in the restaurant of the Cinnamon Grand hotel

A man believed to be Inshaf Ibrahim (pictured in baseball cap with a rucksack) captured on CCTV appearing to hesitate before blowing himself up in the restaurant of the Cinnamon Grand hotel

A man believed to be Inshaf Ibrahim (pictured in baseball cap with a rucksack) captured on CCTV appearing to hesitate before blowing himself up in the restaurant of the Cinnamon Grand hotel

Their attacks claimed the lives of at least 41 foreigners, including eight British holidaymakers – three of whom were children. 

Hours later, as police raided their mansion in an exclusive neighbourhood of Colombo, Ilham’s pregnant wife Fatima blew herself up, killing her three children and three officers.  

The Sri Lankan government has admitted ‘major’ lapses in its failure to act on intelligence warnings, and analysts say a longstanding political crisis is to blame.

Sunday’s coordinated suicide bombings targeted three churches and three hotels, killing at least 359 people and wounding 500 more. 

Authorities have blamed a local group, National Towheed Jamaat, for the attack.  

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.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena tried to sack his prime minster last year as part of an ongoing feud between the pair

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena tried to sack his prime minster last year as part of an ongoing feud between the pair

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena tried to sack his prime minster last year as part of an ongoing feud between the pair 

Military leaders refused to attend a meeting called by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe hours after the terror attack on Easter Sunday

Military leaders refused to attend a meeting called by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe hours after the terror attack on Easter Sunday

Military leaders refused to attend a meeting called by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe hours after the terror attack on Easter Sunday

Sirisena also serves as defence and law and order minister.

‘As part of his ongoing war with the prime minister, the president has tried to weaken him in many ways, including taking the police under his control,’ said Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka specialist at the International Crisis Group think tank.

‘So it’s entirely possible that the police wouldn’t share information with ministers not aligned with the president’, Keenan said. 

The attempt to shut out Prime Minster 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. 

Former Navy chief Jayanath Colombage (centre) alongside President Mahinda Rajapakse (front) during a Victory Day parade in Colombo in 2013

Former Navy chief Jayanath Colombage (centre) alongside President Mahinda Rajapakse (front) during a Victory Day parade in Colombo in 2013

Former Navy chief Jayanath Colombage (centre) alongside President Mahinda Rajapakse (front) during a Victory Day parade in Colombo in 2013

Ilham, whose wife Fatima blew herself up when police raided their mansion in an exclusive part of Colombo, is pictured alongside an accomplice bomber entering the second-floor restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel before the deadly attack

Ilham, whose wife Fatima blew herself up when police raided their mansion in an exclusive part of Colombo, is pictured alongside an accomplice bomber entering the second-floor restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel before the deadly attack

Ilham, whose wife Fatima blew herself up when police raided their mansion in an exclusive part of Colombo, is pictured alongside an accomplice bomber entering the second-floor restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel before the deadly attack

They only agreed to the request after Wickremesinghe turned up at their headquarters in the defence ministry, the sources added. 

Bomber Inshaf was known as a successful businessman and owned a copper factory thought to be where the suicide bombs were made.

Is Sri Lanka ‘terror mastermind’ still alive?

The suspected mastermind behind the Easter Sunday bombings may still be alive, according to local media.

Radical cleric Zahran Hashmi, the alleged leader of the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) Islamist group suspected of being responsible for the attacks, was earlier reported to have died.

Defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene, claimed he had been killed in the Shangri La hotel explosion.

But BBC Sinhala reported today that his death has not been confirmed and that he may still be at large as the country went into emergency lockdown. 

The 38-year-old lived with his wife and their four children in a £1.5million six-bed mansion on one of the most exclusive streets in Colombo.

In an interview with CNN, Wickremesinghe reiterated that the attackers were middle-and upper-middle class and had been educated abroad. 

He also added that the profile of the suspected bombers was ‘surprising’. 

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the political infighting meant security concerns had been relegated to the backburner.

‘The national security council has not met with the participation of the prime minister and the deputy minister of defence for four months’, he said.

‘What on earth were the two of them doing?’ he said, accusing both the president and prime minister of allowing personal animosity to overshadow security concerns.

‘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.’  

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. 

The wealthy brothers - sons of a millionaire spice trader - are two of nine jihadis who carried out the devastating bomb attacks in Sri Lanka. They are believed to be pictured here alongside National Thawheed Jamaath leader Moulvi Zahran Hashim

The wealthy brothers - sons of a millionaire spice trader - are two of nine jihadis who carried out the devastating bomb attacks in Sri Lanka. They are believed to be pictured here alongside National Thawheed Jamaath leader Moulvi Zahran Hashim

The wealthy brothers – sons of a millionaire spice trader – are two of nine jihadis who carried out the devastating bomb attacks in Sri Lanka. They are believed to be pictured here alongside National Thawheed Jamaath leader Moulvi Zahran Hashim

Inshaf was a successful businessman and owned a copper factory (pictured) thought to be where the explosives were made and that was raided by police

Inshaf was a successful businessman and owned a copper factory (pictured) thought to be where the explosives were made and that was raided by police

Inshaf was a successful businessman and owned a copper factory (pictured) thought to be where the explosives were made and that was raided by police 

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. 

‘Agencies responsible for maintaining law and order should not sit back and relax and wait for instructions after finding evidence of possible attacks’, he said.

President Sirisena has vowed a major shake-up of the military’s top brass in the wake of the bombings, and an investigation is underway to establish why police did not share intelligence with Wickremesinghe’s office.

With elections due this year, the government is under mounting pressure.

Sarath Fonseka, a Sri Lankan field marshal and politician, told the Sri Lankan parliament the attack appeared to have been ‘seven or eight months in the making’ and exposed a ‘monumental lapse in intelligence gathering’.

He also described how ‘security has become a joke’ in Sri Lanka, according to the BBC Sinhala.

Military personnel inspect the site after a bomb disposal unit disposed of a van with explosives of in controlled parked near St Anthony's shrine in Colombo

Military personnel inspect the site after a bomb disposal unit disposed of a van with explosives of in controlled parked near St Anthony's shrine in Colombo

Military personnel inspect the site after a bomb disposal unit disposed of a van with explosives of in controlled parked near St Anthony’s shrine in Colombo

Former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse has wasted no time in blasting its failure to keep Sri Lankans safe, accusing the authorities of ‘crippling’ the security agencies.

ICG analyst Keenan said 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’, he added.

NJT was previously only known for vandalising Buddhist statues and for the extremist online sermons of its leader, alternately named Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi. 

On Tuesday, the Islamic State group asserted it carried out the assault, bolstering its claim by publishing images of Zahran and others pledging loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Sri Lankan police could not immediately be reached for comment on the arrest. 

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