We had papers, I alerted officials; but it was never discussed – Sisira Mendis | Daily News
Parliament Select Committee probing Easter Sunday attacks

We had papers, I alerted officials; but it was never discussed – Sisira Mendis

The special Parliament Select Committee probing the April 21 Easter Sunday terror attacks met at parliamentary complex on Wednesday. Committee members Ministers Ravi Karunanayake, Rauff Hakeem, MPs Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Dr. Jayampathy Wickremeratne.  Pictures by Sulochana Gamage.
The special Parliament Select Committee probing the April 21 Easter Sunday terror attacks met at parliamentary complex on Wednesday. Committee members Ministers Ravi Karunanayake, Rauff Hakeem, MPs Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Dr. Jayampathy Wickremeratne. Pictures by Sulochana Gamage. 

The proceedings of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks were opened to the media for live telecast on the directive of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, but the live stream was halted temporarily when the second witness was grilled. This is the first time that a PSC was accessible to the media.

PSC Chair Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne cautioned the witnesses against revealing information that may be prejudicial and requested the media to remain impartial in reporting.

CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY


Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis testifying before the special Parliament Select Committee probing the April 21 Easter Sunday terror attacks on Wednesday. 

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Who gave you a contract as the Chief of National Intelligence?

Sisira Mendis: I can produce a certified copy of the contract I brought with me today. It is signed by a Basnayake, but it was given to me by the President.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Can you tell us about what you do? Do you have a Terms of Reference (ToR)?

Sisira Mendis: No sir, I was not given any ToR. This letter of contract states that in keeping with a decision made during a Cabinet meeting, my appointment will be as follows.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: so no ToR.

Sisira Mendis: According to this letter, my appointment is temporary sir, for a contract period of one year.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Has it been extended?

Sisira Mendis: I have never requested personally for a renewal but yes sir, it has been extended.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Who do you report to?

Sisira Mendis: To the Secretary, Ministry of Defence.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: What is the nature of your relationship with him?

Sisira Mendis: I don’t have any such relationship. I have duly declared my assets prior to taking up this position.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: What is your main role?

Sisira Mendis: When I was the DIG of CID, I was directly reporting to the former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. On Tuesday, we would meet in the morning to discuss intelligence information. At the time, the Director of the State Intelligence Service was Keerthi Gajanayake. It was during these times that I participated in these meetings. Military intelligence officials also participated. During these meetings, we exchanged views including international intelligence information, and when we wanted something sourced, our field officers would provide such. I maintained a close coordination between all.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Did you meet every week on Tuesday?

Sisira Mendis: During the days that the Defence Secretary was busy, we could not hold the meeting as planned. So, instead we used to have a separate meeting for intelligence coordination; this included the participation of the Commanders of the Tri-forces, Chief of Defence Staff.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Who are the other members of the meeting?

Sisira Mendis: This meeting was headed by the State Minister of Defence; it saw the participation of the Chief of Defence Staff, Commanders of the Tri-Forces, Director of the State Intelligence Service Nilantha Jayawardena, officers from the intelligence services, officers from the Army, Air Force and Navy, Special Investigation Unit, relevant DIGs, the IGP.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Who prepares the agenda?

Sisira Mendis: I do and I get the approval of the Secretary, Ministry of Defence.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Who convenes the meeting?

Sisira Mendis: I do.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Are you entrusted with the role of gathering intelligence information?

Sisira Mendis: Sir, it needs to be noted that many of the officers of the National Intelligence, 15 of them are not trained in gathering or analysing of such information as most of them are members of the Army and the Police.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Were you responsible to gather information or intelligence on these attacks?

Sisira Mendis: No sir, the priority was given to the Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS). The SIS is equivalent to RAW in India and CIA in America.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Zahran led a group of bombers. How many times was Zahran discussed?

Sisira Mendis: I have minutes of the meeting that I can share with this committee sir. This file contains the minutes of all the meetings we held sir.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: What date is that file?

Sisira Mendis: 6th October, 2015.

Ravi Karunanayake: Do you have that info with you?

Sisira Mendis: I have the document with me here. This is the first meeting that I attended. Here we discussed counter emergency laws and defeating ISIS. This document also lists some decisions that were made. In this document, there is a separate part which details the agencies that are responsible to carry out these tasks; it includes SIS, TID, MI. There is also another part of the document which states the remarks – take necessary action and collaborate database. The initial focus was on ISIS in Sri Lanka and not particularly on Zahran.

Sarath Fonseka: When did the Security Council inform the President?

Sisira Mendis: I have summarised it here. It was informed to him.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Was the matter discussed at length at the Security Council meetings?

Sisira Mendis: I believe it is the purview of the SIS as the Director is the main person who would know of ISIS activities and who would be entrusted to provide/detail that information. Director of SIS is always given the priority in these meetings. If the information is passed on to me, I immediately act upon it.

Ravi Karunanayake: Is SIS connected to the Police?

Sisira Mendis: No sir; but those who work there are from the Police.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: To whom does SIS report to?

Sisira Mendis: To the IGP and through Defence Secretary. I believe they come under the purview of the Defence Secretary.

Sarath Fonseka: Does SIS come under you?

Sisira Mendis: No, it is not mentioned anywhere that the director must work with me.

Sarath Fonseka: So if the funds are coming from the ministry, then who manages its operations?

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Were you ever at the SIS while you were in the Police?

Sisira Mendis: No sir.

Nalinda Jayatissa: When was this position created?

Sisira Mendis: It was created in 2013, when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was the Defence Secretary. For the past one month, the operations have been handled by the Western Province Operations Command Centre. Earlier individuals such as Chula Seneviratne held the position and later Kapila Hendawitharana.

Nalinda Jayatissa: You mentioned you met and discussed ISIS in October. Between July and October, did you all meet to discuss this?

Sisira Mendis: No, October was my first meeting. They may have discussed this before.

Nalinda Jayatissa: Why didn’t you attend?

Sisira Mendis: I did attend a few meetings, but it was not discussed.

Nalinda Jayatissa: The Prime Minister made a statement that the Defence Secretary had been informed of the threat since 2014, but it had not been looked into?

Sisira Mendis: It is difficult for me to say anything on that. I think it’s better if the question is directed to the SIS Director.

Ravi Karunanayake: We know now Zahran was responsible. How many others are out there?

Sisira Mendis: In March 2017, we heard of a clash between two groups in Kattankudy. They attacked each other with knives. There were reports that one group was headed by Zahran. The TID investigated this and took action by issuing arrest warrants.

Nalinda Jayathissa: A number of Muslim clerics and Muslim religious organization said they had alerted security agencies of the threat of this group. Even the BBS led by Ven. Galaboda Atthe Gnanasara Thera said the same. What do you say about it?

Sisira Mendis: I haven’t got any information on that sir. It is the Defence Secretary who deals directly with the SIS.

Nalinda Jayatissa: A number of other groups have also claimed to have mentioned this?

Sisira Mendis: I don’t have any information on that sir.

Ravi Karunanayake: A moulavi is quoted here in Lankadeepa as saying that he had reported this group to security agencies?

Nalinda Jayatissa: I think we should find out who these individuals are who claim to have alerted the security forces or intelligence officials and to whom they had said so.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: I think we should call them before the commission. This will include the moulavi and even Ven. Galagoda Atthe Gnanasara Thera. I think the media being here is a good medium for us to express our intent to call them before this committee to testify.

Sisira Mendis: Sure.

Ravi Karunanayake: Before the attacks on April 21, when was the last meeting of this security information gathering?

Sisira Mendis: It was on April 9, 2019. We had received intelligence from foreign services. The letter that had come from them is dated April 4. I don’t know how the letter came to be as it’s not signed. The letter states that there is an ‘alleged plan’ of an ‘alleged attack’. As April 4 was a Sunday, it was sent to me on April 8 by Nilantha Jayawardena at 11am.

I clearly remember that around 9:45 am that morning the Defence Secretary was busy with preparations to welcome the Indian Defence Secretary. who was arriving to the country.

The letter was named for me, so I opened it and there was another letter attached to it. I don’t usually know where it comes from.

Ravi Karunanayake: Who receives such letters from foreign sources?

Sisira Mendis: The SIS Director.

Ravi Karunanayke: Is there a signature on this letter?

Sisira Mendis: No sir. I believe this is the way these letters are taken when it comes from foreign sources; it may not need to bear any signatures.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Advises photographer to not take photograph of the letter as it may bear confidential information.

Ravi Karunanayake: So you get this letter, and you pass it on the same day?

Sisira Mendis: No sir, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando was very busy that day. I informed him verbally at around 3pm that day. I told him that police should take prompt action. When I told him, he said I should send the letter to the IGP.

Ravi Karunanayke: Was it discussed at the meeting on the 9th?

Sisira Mendis: The Defence Secretary said that we should take it up for discussion.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: So it wasn’t the main item for discussion that day?

Sisira Mendis: No sir. Minister Ruwan Wijewardene was not present. I kept the letter I received from the SIS Director on my table. I was seated between the IGP and the SIS director. When the meeting was about to conclude, I said that we must discuss it and formulate our action plan.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: So, at the meeting on the 9th, it was not taken up for discussion?

Sisira Mendis: I showed the paper. I told them that it should be taken up for discussion. I informed the Defence Secretary as well. But Nilantha Jayawardena, SIS Director and Defence Secretary said that I must discuss it with the IGP.

Ravi Karunanayake: So let’s get this straight. The letter arrives on the 4th, it’s sent to you on the 8th and it’s not discussed on the 9th?

Sisira Mendis: I kept those two papers on my table. I did not know the extent of the seriousness of it, but when I mentioned it repeatedly to the director, he said that he had informed the IGP. At that moment, I made a decision myself to write to the IGP about it.

I had never written a letter of any sort to the IGP before this. This was the first time I sent him a letter addressed as “Eyes only” which is a common term used by intelligence officials to state the urgency of a document. I put it in a special envelope and sent it through a trusted individual, to whom I said that the IGP upon receiving the letter must sign a note and bring it back.

Nalinda Jayatissa: Did the IGP speak to you about it?

Ravi Karunanayake: The IGP was seated next to him…

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: So on the 9th Tuesday meeting, this was not discussed but did you talk about it to IGP Jayasundara?

Sisira Mendis: I was keeping the papers on my table but it was not discussed. I was told the SIS Director also received it.

Sarath Fonseka: But you are well known to each other, you were classmates in school?

Sisira Mendis: No sir, he was senior to me.

Sarath Fonseka: The Defence Secretary needs not wait until you inform him. He should have discussed it. The Defence Secretary should have taken steps; it is unfair to blame the IGP or penalise him for the Defence Secretary not taking action.

Sisira Mendis: Nilantha said that he had discussed it with the IGP.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: But it was not discussed at all?

Prof. Ashu Marasinghe: So the SIS Director coordinates with the IGP. Once you sent that letter to the IGP did he discuss it with you?

Sarath Fonseka: Was the next Security Council meeting held on the 10th?

Sisira Mendis: No sir. No Security Council meeting was held.

Sarath Fonseka: So, when was the last security meeting held?

Sisira Mendis: The last Security Council meeting was on February 19.

Sarath Fonseka: So there was no other Security Council meeting since?

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: When was the meeting before February 19?

Sisira Mendis: January 14 sir.

Nalinda Jayatissa: How often did you have these meetings?

Sisira Mendis: Once a month.

Ravi Karunanayake: Do you go for every meeting?

Sisira Mendis: Yes.

Nalinda Jayatissa: When was the meetings held before January?

Sisira Mendis: December 3, 2018, November 13, 2018, October 23, 2018.

Sarath Fonseka: How many times was ISIS discussed? Was it discussed?

Sisira Mendis: I believe it was discussed, but it comes under the purview of Nilantha Jayawardena.

Ravi Karunanayake: How many times was Zahran discussed?

Sisira Mendis: He was discussed in relation to hate speech.

Ravi Karunanayake: This individual, Abdul Razick, is also spreading hate speech, why is he still not arrested?

Sisira Mendis: Yes sir, there were so many people linked to this issue.

Nalinda Jayatissa: Didn’t it occur to the IGP to go into this in length?

Sisira Mendis: As police officers, we have no objections over talking to individuals. They can be questioned. But I think it was the TID that was responsible for this matter.

Nalinda Jayatissa: On April 19, there was this story about motorcycles transporting explosives?

Sisira Mendis: On April 18, Nilantha mentioned that there were explosives found in Kattankudy, but there was no further information about it.

Prof. Ashu Marasinghe: After the 9th, were there any meetings about this?

Sisira Mendis: No sir, I was never part of any such meetings after that.

Prof. Ashu Marasinghe: were you a member of the Security Council in 2011?

Sisira Mendis: No sir, I was only summoned when needed over court cases.

Prof. Ashu Marasinghe: After 2015, how often did you meet?

Nalinda Jayatissa: Once a month?

Sisira Mendis: We had our Tuesday discussions. But the Defence Secretary was engaged in a different discussion.

Nalinda Jayatissa: Which Defence Secretary?

Sisira Mendis: Hemasiri.

Nalinda Jayatissa: Didn’t the State Minister of Defence take part?

Sisira Mendis: Not in all meetings, only in some.

Nalinda Jayatissa: Isn’t the State Minister of Defence compelled to come?

Sisira Mendis: He should attend, but I don’t have the info off hand.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Cautions the witness from revealing confidential information; tells the witness that he is free to speak with the members privately.

Sarath Fonseka: The ranks and names of directors and the Defence Secretary is known to all. So, those can hardly be considered confidential information. But if there are information from search operations which may be sensitive, you don’t have to go into length. There is no point in having a committee if you are going to conceal information. Only withhold such information if that would be prejudicial.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Do you have the dates of the meetings before October 23?

Sisira Mendis: July 10, 2018, May 2, 2018, March 5, 2018, February 19, 2018, January 5, 2018.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Did IGP come for each?

Sisira Mendis: Yes, but not after November.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: After October?

Sisira Mendis: No.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: Why is that? Wasn’t he asked to come?

Sisira Mendis: I don’t know sir.

Sarath Fonseka: Is there no list of individuals who are compelled to come?

Sisira Mendis: When the meeting is required, it is held.

Sarath Fonseka: And you still have to go around calling people?

Sisira Mendis: No, the Secretary of Defence does so.

Sarath Fonseka: Are members of the Opposition allowed to take part at the SC?

Sisira Mendis: No.

Nalinda Jayatissa: There was an incident in Wanathavillu, everyone knows of it. Did the SC take it seriously?

Sisira Mendis: Yes, it was discussed, as an update of the investigations.

Nalinda Jayatissa: So, in February you meet but it’s not discussed in length?

Rauff Hakeem: We all know that Minister Kabir Hashim’s Secretary was shot in the head, was that discussed?

Sisira Mendis: Yes, it was discussed and mentioned that the shooting was carried out by the same group.

Ravi Karunanayake: You mentioned there was an open warrant for Zahran, did that investigation come to a halt after the arrest of DIG Nalaka de Silva?

Sisira Mendis: I cannot state specifically on it sir.

Rauff Hakeem: Is it because it’s under the TID?

Sisira Mendis: Yes and the Wanathavillu case comes under the CID. It was my personal opinion that there should have been a coordinated approach.

Nalinda Jayatissa: Kabir Hashim’s Secretary’s shooting cannot be discussed at the SC; there was no meeting after that?

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: When the two constables were shot in Wavunathivu, you all went after LTTE cadres.

Sisira Mendis: It happened so the OIC had opposed some commemoration which we feel irked those people in the area which may have led to the killing.

Jayampathy Wickremaratne: But as far as it goes, it was done by Zahran.

Sisira Mendis: Yes investigations revealed so. 


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