Lessons from the PSC Report | Daily News
Easter Sunday attacks

Lessons from the PSC Report

Select Committee of Parliament to look into and report to Parliament on the terrorist attacks that took place at different places in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019.

The article today carries selected extracts from the Select Committee report.


Following the attacks, evidence emerged that prior intelligence information was available regarding the impending attack but that it was not acted upon.

This is compounded by the fact that since April 8, 2018, a full one year before the incident, he had in writing to the IGP requested for the shutting down of investigations by others into Zahran, which resulted in the SIS becoming the sole investigator into Zahran.

This failure by the SIS has resulted in hundreds of deaths, many more injured and immeasurable devastation to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans and that must not be treated lightly.

The PSC also observes that further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instill fear and uncertainty in the country in the lead up to the Presidential election to be held later in the year. Such a situation would then lead to the call for a change of regime to contain such acts of terrorism. Coincidentally or not so coincidentally, the security situation and fear would be unleashed months away from the Presidential election.


In the past two to three decades a version of Islam that supports extremism began to spread in Sri Lanka mainly in the Eastern Province. More recently with the rise of Buddhist extremism in the country, the Islamic extremism moved towards violent extremism and appears to have escalated to terrorism that ultimately resulted in the Easter Sunday attacks.

The PSC observes that there is a growing trend of Islam phobia in the country in the past few decades. Several attacks on the Muslim minority community were reported starting from Mawanella riots in 2001, Aluthgama riots in 2014, Gintota riots in 2017 Ampara and Digana 2018 and in parts of the North Western Province in May 2019. In 2012, a Buddhist extremist group, Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force or BBS), was created to promote Buddhist nationalism among the majority Sinhalese community. Several attacks against mosques and anti-Muslim campaigns as well as attacks on churches and Christians have been attributed to the BBS since then. However, there has been no action taken regarding the conduct of the organisation. In addition to the BBS, there are other groups and individuals who have incited hate and racism and been allegedly involved in some of the incidents discussed in this section.

In June 2014, Muslims and their properties were attacked in the towns of Aluthgama, Beruwala and Darga Town in the Kalutara District by Sinhala Buddhist extremists mainly believed to be supporters of the BBS. It is believed that at least four people were killed and around 80 injured in the riots that lasted two days.

Several Muslim-owned shops and places of worship were set ablaze. PSC noted that the then Government failed to protect the vulnerable Muslim community in the area and Police and the STF took little or no action in controlling the situation. The PSC is not aware if any perpetrators responsible for the violence, deaths and destruction being indicted or prosecuted to date. The growing demonization of Muslims by religious extremists in society over the last few years is contributing to their radicalization. This is compounded by the impunity with which alleged perpetrators operate, with several alleged perpetrators continue to advocate hate with no evidence of being held accountable for their action.

Despite the change of Government in 2015, the attacks against Muslims and Christian religious places continued coupled with the increasing calls to boycott Muslim businesses. This was compounded by global trends of Islam phobia.

The PSC observes that the marginalization of Muslims and widespread Islam phobia since the end of the civil war may have contributed to Muslim youth being more prone to the process of Islamic radicalization. Testimony received by the PSC also indicates to Zahran increasing his activities on social media soon after the Digana violence in 2018 with posts highlighting the discrimination faced by Muslims and the exacerbating Sinhala Buddhist extremism. Some of the intelligence agencies testified before the PSC to noticing an increase in such rhetoric post March 2018 which had gained traction with Muslim youth.


In the field of counterterrorism, reliable and timely intelligence plays a major role. It makes tactical and strategic prevention in the real sense of its meaning possible. On the one hand, it provides security professionals with the opportunity to act before a terrorist attack occurs (tactical prevention), while on the other hand, it is the precondition for threat analysis, which enables proper political decision making with a long-term approach towards evolving security concerns (strategic prevention).

If authorities had taken action early, including arresting individuals on the basis of evidence and due process, the Easter Sunday attacks may have been prevented as well as subsequent violence.

The PSC notes that the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies did not understand the gravity of the threats. The danger the country could face from terrorism-let alone Islamic terrorism was not a major topic for policy debate in the recent past.

The PSC observes that from the evidence presented before it, it is seen that there are severe intelligence lapses, including a lack of information sharing between the intelligence agencies, the Police, the President, and the Prime Minister and the country’s main law office – the Attorney-General’s Department.


• Establishing the NSC and providing for its framework/mandate.

• Introduce necessary legislation with powers to arrest and detain, search, investigate digital and other platforms and sufficient powers over emigration and immigration with judicial oversight, access to the NHRC.

• Big Data and Analytics to track all Media and Social Media Posts with Artificial Intelligence (any unusual pattern and wrong communication will be alerted)

• The Government should sponsor and foster inter-faith dialogue to promote religious harmony, co-existence, mutual respect and create awareness on radicalization and extremism.

• The Government should improve engagement with community and religious leaders and have a robust system to address concerns raised including early warning of increased extremism and follow up with community led initiatives.

• State authorities must take immediate action to address the dissemination of misinformation and spread of hate speech inciting violence. This must include steps to hold alleged perpetrators accountable.

• The state should allocate more funding for conducting research on the root causes of extremism and terrorism and its evolving tactics that would be useful to decision-makers, as well as to security professionals.

• The PSC recommends that all Government institutions particularly the Security Forces and the Police must reflect the ethnic and religious composition in the country.

• Inter-faith dialogue with relevant specialists to be regularly carried out at the urban and rural grassroots levels to voluntarily resolve differences that arise from time to time in order to reduce the degree of fear and suspicion and iron out potential conflicts.

• A community-based mechanism of dealing with issues should be established where the ordinary citizens are included at the decision-making level.

• Ideas of peace and reconciliation should be instilled in schoolchildren across the island. Students must be given an opportunity to study their respective religions while encouraging their respective religious / cultural norms to be practised within the context of a broader Sri Lankan identity and universal values.

• A Race Relations Board with the funds and authority to look into problems that affect religious harmony can be created. Alternatively, a sub-committee can be set up under the Human Rights Commission to deal exclusively with complaints of communal incitement and violence which will allow for investigations to be carried out within the ambit of the law and not in an arbitrary manner, and to take appropriate remedial.

• Ensure Sri Lanka has a Public Prosecutor’s office that is separate and independent of the Government.

• The PSC notes the increasing religious extremism across Sri Lanka and the need for multi-prong approach to address this phenomenon. The PSC notes the increasing trends of Wahabism and Arabization in parts of Sri Lanka and the steps required to address this. Whilst there must be recognition towards religious and cultural practices, it is essential that such practices do not infringe others rights and beliefs.

• The PSC recommends that the Government take prompt measures engage with community, religious and political leaders to address this phenomenon and to identify negative aspects. In this it is important to engage with a range of stakeholders including academics, religious leaders, civil society and community leaders.

• The PSC notes that given the dangerous inter-dependency between radicalization, terrorism and the media – it is imperative to explore the impact especially of social media on the youth in the country.

The Report is seen at https://parliament.lk/uploads/comreports/sc-april-attacks-report-en.pdf

It would be calamitous to ignore the contents of the Report. If 1983 was bad, April 2019 was a watershed. It’s a wake-up call to take heed and act.

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