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Sri Lankan security forces may have allowed Easter Sunday bombings to proceed, MPs suggest

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Sri Lanka received clear warnings of impending attacks ahead of the Easter Sunday bombings and security figures may have deliberately let the atrocities proceed, an MPs’ inquiry has suggested.

An investigation by the country’s parliament suggested a further probe into whether parts of the security apparatus chose not to act, to undermine the government ahead of elections.

At total of 269 people, including eight Britons died in the coordinated bombing of three churches and three hotels on April 21 this year. Eight suicide bombers detonated during the attacks, including their ringleader, an extremist preacher called Zahran Hashim.

A report by a parliamentary committee into the attacks has now blamed the country’s spy chief for the intelligence failures that led to the deaths.

Nilantha Jayawardena, chief of the State Intelligence Service chief received tip offs on  possible attacks more than a fortnight before the bombings, but there were delays sharing the intelligence with other agencies. Informants even said Zahran planned to conduct suicide bombings on churches and hotels on April 21.

The report said Mr Jayawardena’s responsibility was made worse because he had asked higher-level officials nearly a year earlier to bring investigations into Zahran under his control.

Sri Lanka’s National Security Council met on April 9, with the defence ministry secretary asking Mr Jayawardena for a briefing on Zahran. Mr Jawaywardena said he would send a note later, the report  said.

“ If the matter was discussed, steps may have been taken to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks,” the parliamentary report found.

The report said that the State Intelligence Service did not report to the military on possible attacks until April 19. The next day, Jayawardena called the national police chief to say there was a high probability that an attack would occur on April 21.

On Easter morning, Jayawardena called the police chief again to say that “something dangerous would happen on that day,” the report said.

The report also said “questions must be raised as to whether Zahran had the support and patronage of some politicians and intelligence”.

MPs also asked concluded that “further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instil fear and uncertainty in the country in the lead up to the presidential election”.

The attacks triggered communal violence against Sri Lanka’s Muslims and the country had “witnessed new levels of fear among the public and criticism towards the political leadership and security establishment. It was also a time when calls emanated for a change of regime.”

It went on: “These cannot be taken as coincidental and must be investigated further. It is also paramount to question the role of some sections in the intelligence apparatus and their attempts to shape security, the electoral process, political landscape and the future of Sri Lanka.”

The committee also said an open spat between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe contributed to the security failures.

Sri Lankan investigators concluded that Zahran’s terrorist cell took inspiration from Islamic State group, but had not been directed by it. A video released by an Islamic State propaganda channel two days after the bombing showed the attacker pledging allegiance to militant group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The bombers had struck churches and hotels with foreign guests from “crusader” countries fighting against the militants, a statement said, and referred to Easter as an “infidel” holiday.

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