Sri Lanka's former president Maithripala Sirisena on Monday appeared before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the Easter Sunday attacks and denied he was privy to prior intelligence on the deadly terror strikes. Nine suicide bombers belonging to local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels on the Easter Sunday last year, killing 258 people, including 11 Indians.
The previous government headed by Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was blamed for its inability to prevent the attacks despite the prior intelligence made available on the impending attack. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who pledged an independent probe in the incident during his election campaign in November last year, continued with the same panel appointed by then president Sirisena after assuming office.
The Commission issued notices to Sirisena on September 22 to testify before it on October 5. Sirisena appeared before the panel and recorded his statement for nearly 7 hours. Sirisena told the panel that he was not informed by the relevant officials on the impending attacks. He said he later learnt that intelligence had been received as early as April 4, 2019.
He told the panel he went to Singapore on April 16 for a medical check-up and the then police chief Pujith Jayasundera and the then top bureaucrat of defence ministry Hemasiri Fernando had seen him off at the airport. None of them informed him on the impending attacks. He told the panel he would have taken action to stop the attacks if his officials had not kept him in the dark.
Sirisena had sacked both Jayasundera and Fernando from jobs and the duo was arrested and jailed for alleged criminal negligence. Jayasundera was present when Sirisena testified alongside the then head of the state intelligence service, Nilantha Jayawardena. Jayasundera in his testimony had blamed Jayawardena for keeping him in the dark despite him being the boss.
Sirisena will again appear on October 12.