In an interview given to Hiru TV on September 4, 2023, the day after the Channel 4 documentary on the 2019 Easter bombing in Sri Lanka was aired in the UK, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, a former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, France, UNESCO and Russia, said that investigations into the Easter bombings have raised more questions than answers and that the latest documentary released by Channel 4 succeeds in creating “reasonable doubt” in the minds of the viewers that the official investigations may not yet have revealed the whole truth.
The Channel 4 documentary he said, would accumulate over time a potentially huge global audience— 2.5 billion Christians, including 1.4 billion Catholics— who would be concerned at allegations that a former Sri Lankan intelligence official and current head of the SIS, had met with members of the group that eventually carried out the attack on Easter Sunday, at a secret location.
The shocking allegation of the whistle-blower that this officer had told him that an “unsafe environment” in Sri Lanka was required to ensure the electoral victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whether truthful or not, needs an urgent, comprehensive and clarificatory response from the GoSL, he said.
If it wants to prevent possible action in other, non-Lankan jurisdictions, the government should remove the sense of opacity that surrounds security officials’ non-response to vital foreign intelligence, their surreal behaviour on the day of the attack and their intervention during subsequent investigations.
Indian revelations at Russian Conference
Asked what information he had at the time of the Easter attack as a serving ambassador, Jayatilleka said he was Ambassador to the Russian Federation at the time of the bombings. He said that at the High-Level International Conference on Security held in the city of Ufa in June
2019 which he attended, together with a delegate from the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Modi’s Deputy National Security Advisor at the time, Rajinder Khanna announced to the conference that India had passed on urgent intelligence to their security counterparts in Sri Lanka about a likely terrorist attack in Colombo. Khanna, a former chief of India’s external intelligence, had expressed his bafflement at the lack of action by the Sri Lankan officials in response to such deadly serious information.
Jayatilleka said that the Commission of Inquiry report revealed that five ranking security officials who received this intelligence prior to the bombings took no action to pass on this information to their superiors. Nor did they take any action which could have prevented the large-scale massacre of innocents. He expressed his dismay that not one, but five chose to remain inexplicably silent.
Suggesting that people even in their ordinary lives usually warn their relatives and friends when there is an impending water cut or torrential rains in their areas, five officials whose main job it was to receive and pass on warnings of threats to the country, had mysteriously failed to do so. He said an urgent, rigorous investigation into their silence is imperative in the context of the Channel 4 allegations.
Close Encounter with a suicide bomber
A more curious incident was the mysterious intelligence officer who is reported by the Commission of Inquiry as having actually met with one of the suicide bombers on the day of the attack. This bomber who left the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo after receiving a telephone call, was met by a Sri Lankan intelligence official who then let him go on his way and blow himself up at a more modest hotel in Dehiwala. Jayatilleka asks why the unnamed intelligence official did not arrest the bomber when he met him. He says it is a world’s first where such a person, most likely carrying the bomb on himself at the time, was allowed to go his way unhindered by a security official.
According to the report of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) and notes kept by the lawyers representing the Catholic Church at the inquiry, this official was summoned by the CID special team investigating the massacre, but was soon removed by Sri Lankan Intelligence who swooped in on the proceedings, claiming that this person was one of their operatives and the questioning pertained to one of their operations—and therefore he should not be questioned further. Jayatilleka says this must be another world record, where the state official who actually met the suicide bomber on the day of the bombings, and only minutes before he blew himself up, was not allowed to be questioned by the government’s own CID and COI set up to investigate the very event.
Jayatilleka says this sort of behaviour by some government agencies lend sufficient credibility to allegations of a conspiracy. He warns that clearing up these issues is critical to preventing the allegations of involvement of covert state networks or operatives in the Easter Sunday massacre. Blanket denials of the sort engaged in by the government in and outside parliament, including the argument that ‘Islamic religious extremists will never engage in suicide missions to bring a Sinhala Buddhist President to office’, will simply not suffice, since the plotting and manipulation as distinct from the execution, could have been done by someone other than the bombers themselves.
He gave the example of the murder of former Italian PM Aldo Moro in 1978, where two decades later in two BBC programs – including TIMEWATCH by John Simpson—it was eventually revealed that though the execution was by a young Red Brigades member, that cell was manipulated and the actual plotting probably done by a clandestine network called Gladio, set up
by NATO intelligence agencies with the collaboration of ex-Mussolini fascists. ‘Gladio’ was initially formed as a resistance in case of Soviet invasion but later carried out a ‘strategy of tension’ supporting rightwing terrorism.
The murder of Moro was because he was trying to form a coalition government of the Italian Communist Party and the Governing Christian Democrats but some powerful quarters were apprehensive that Italy, a NATO member, would be thereby penetrated by Communist and Soviet influence. The young Red Brigades members who carried out the attack had no idea of the forces manipulating these events in the shadows. The Channel-4 documentary raises doubts that a model of ‘remote end-user’ manipulation may have been used in Sri Lanka’s Easter Massacre Jayatillake said.
2018-2019 Political Context
Dr. Jayatilleka says the political context in which the Gotabaya camp or the Gotabaya project operated must be understood in relations to the allegations. The Yahapalanaya government was in power at the time of the Easter attack. The Presidential elections were only months away. Although it was clear that the SLPP would win against the widely unpopular government, Jayatilleka says that the extremist group in the state institutions and civil society supporting Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for president since 2012 –the “Gotabaya Project” as he called it—was anxious that Mahinda Rajapaksa may either give the nomination to his politically experienced elder brother Chamal, oldest in the family, or support incumbent President Sirisena and place himself as the powerful Prime Minister.
When President Sirisena removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2018, replacing him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, this fear was evident as supporters of the Rajapaksa brothers Gotabaya and Basil studiedly withheld their considerable resources, human and organizational, which prevented the consolidation of the MS-MR alliance in the face of challenges by the UNP which questioned its constitutionality. Even after the 52-days interlude was over, the SLPP knew the UNP could be defeated at any election. That was not the real fear of the ‘Gotabaya camp’ as distinct from the Rajapaksas as a whole or even the SLPP.
“Their real fear” Jayatilleka said, “was that Gotabaya may not get the nomination, frustrating their hopes and pet project of many years”. That was the real context, he said. The Channel 4 report notes that days after the Easter bombing, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa put his hat into the ring as the law-and-order candidate, was nominated by the SLPP as its presidential nominee and soon swept into office.
Jayatilleka said that the Sri Lankan judicial system should be assisted to reveal the truth to its citizens and to bring the perpetrators to justice. He said there will have to be foreign expert elements in the mix. He suggested using Interpol and forensics experts from other countries to assist in the investigations. He said he was against an international inquiry which was made up of agencies of individual countries because those countries have their own geopolitical agendas in the region and in the current period of big power contestation in this area, it is unwise to trust any of the dominant players to act outside their national interest.
He said the FBI was invited to help and did come in and sweep the locations and took back vital evidence including mobile phones for analysis but Sri Lankans are none the wiser today about the results of their investigations. Multilateral agencies are much better to conduct an impartial inquiry and he recommended using UN agencies to help with the process.
Courtesy of The Island