Our history of impunity, especially since the ascent to power of J.R. Jayewardene in 1977, brings us to the strange and largely un-mourned disappearance of the law. The Easter eruption, the evidence suggests, was a gamble the protagonists stumbled into in confronting the arithmetical realities of the coming presidential election. Their expectations appear to have gone awry. What transpired was in effect, a second attempt at disenfranchisement, this time of the Muslims. The Plantation Tamils were disenfranchised in 1949, as a follow up to the 1948 Citizenship Act.
Until the war and militarisation there was no indication of state agencies taking the side of Wahabis against the Sufis. Vigilantism against Sufis was inspired by positions taken by the local Jamayathul Ulama. The role of the state agencies began when Muslim youths who received military training in the fight against the LTTE and were patronised by intelligence agencies went back to Kattankudy and were then recruited into a more stringent Wahabi movement. This could be seen in the names by which several Wahabi militants were known: Police Faiz, Army Mohideen, Army Niyas etc. With a younger generation of fiery Wahabi preachers who appealed to these militarily trained youth, who were originally patronised by state intelligence agencies and the PNM, a bridge was set in place between intelligence handlers and the young preachers.
We give the main facts of the [10th March 2017] attack from OIC Kattankudy, Ariabandu Wedegedara’s B-Report of the following day. “About 5.30 PM Aboobucker Mohamed Munafir with his cousin Fowmi went on a motorcycle and reached Aliyar Junction where … they saw a crowd of about 50 youths in orange shirts coming along the street from Nooraniya Mosque … They were the people of Zahran Moulavi and were beating people on their way. As they came near, Zahran pulled out a knife and tried to stab Munafir. In attempting to resist the knife, Munafir received a stab in the left side of his stomach. Then Zahran’s younger brother Rilvan and a person called Niyas attacked Munafir and his cousin with iron rods. The two were then thrown on the ground and trampled… Army Mohideen pulled Fameel inside his compound, pressed a knife against his neck and said, “We came ready for everything.”
One of the early hints that the State regarded Zahran as a protected person came from a journalist in the Times Group. This journalist had learnt that a state intelligence unit (apparently there were two active in the area, Police and Military Intelligence) had informed the Police that Zahran was hiding at a particular house in Kattankudy; the Police however took no action. The intelligence source added that Zahran had been removed and taken elsewhere in a vehicle belonging to a senior Muslim politician.
Finally on 30th June 2017, the Kattankudy Police did what it should have done in March. Deputy OIC Jeyaseelan referred to their request to Emigration of 17th March to arrest Zahran should he attempt to embark at the airport. He added that investigations are still going on and requested the Magistrate to issue [further] arrest warrants for the following suspects: 10.) Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zahran, 11.) Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Rilvan, 12.) Mohamed Mohideen, alias Army Mohideen.
We encountered in the foregoing a situation where the judge had very limited or no control over police investigations into a crime of considerable magnitude, but is practically forced to make orders on the basis of these investigations, however defective and politicised he knew them to be. But this is what the 1972 Constitution, which reduced the judiciary to a government department, expects him to do. It is not for him to transgress on the work of other departments.
Thus the Magistrate who knew the criminal character of the NTJ members detained and the harm they were likely to do, was hamstrung by the Police being under political pressure to terminate inquiries and release the detainees.
While the post July 1983 Deep State under J.R. Jayewardene did most things out of public view, it was under the Rajapaksa presidency with his brother Gotabhaya as defence secretary, aided by the openly partisan Chief Justices Sarath Silva and Mohan Peiris, that it attained a new menacing invisibility. Among its actions were attempts to cover up the 2006 Five Students and ACF killings in Trincomalee, the attacks on journalists, the 2009 killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge and the disappearance of Prageeth Eknelligoda. The Sinhalese could no longer ignore it. That helped to bring down the Rajapaksa presidency by a whisker in January 2015. The price was to install someone who had no clear position on the Deep State and was ultimately cowed down by it.
On 9th April 2019 Sisira Mendis, Chief of National Intelligence, received a letter from Director SIS, SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena, sent the previous day, advising him of a letter from foreign intelligence sources on 4th April on an ‘alleged plan’ for an ‘alleged attack’.
[Jayawardena’s memo of 11th April 2019] listed out the hideouts of Zahran (Oluvil), Rilvan (Araiampathy) and Army Mohideen (Pasikkudah), in the Amparai and Batticaloa Districts, and stated that they had not got information from the ground of plans to attack Catholic Churches. One finds remarkable the accuracy of information from India and the lack of it locally.
It was the duty of the President (who had virtually cut off the IGP after the latter got cold feet over carrying out his boss’ improper order to transfer IP Silva out of the CID at ‘putative prime minister’ Mahinda Rajapaksa’s behest), to swallow his pride and order the IGP to do his duty. Indeed, the IGP had the full authority and resources to act on his own, but servility to political bosses in which the Police had been coached since 1972, left him paralysed. The obvious first step was to broadcast a public warning.
After the results of the Local Council elections in February [2018, where Rajapaksa’s SLPP polled 44.65 percent nationally, not good enough to be elected president], one of the main concerns of the parties dependent on extreme Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism was the Muslim vote. Rajapaksa’s unexpected defeat in 2015 owed to the intervention of Sobitha Thero.
The suppression or deflection of the Muslim vote, and the reinforcement of Sinhalese extremist support, we may say was why political actors chose to capitalise on and exacerbate the anti-Muslim violence in Ampara and Digana that began with commonplace incidents. But the limit was quickly set by Sinhalese-Buddhist revulsion, articulated by persons horrified at their religion being desecrated in this way.
An early intervention during the March 2018 violence was by Galkande Dhammananda Thero, who had warned against anti-Muslim violence in 2013. In his response to the 2018 violence, he quoted from Buddha’s teaching about attitude to victory: “Victory breeds hatred in the conquered. The defeated live in sorrow. Giving up both victory and defeat, the appeased live in peace.” It was a defiant challenge to the triumphalism of the Rajapaksa allies.
There were two indicators that something nasty was in the air. One was the discovery by the CID that was investigating the Mawanella Buddha statues affair of a possible training camp in Puttalam District. The other was the hushed up attempt on the life of Taslim, Minister Kabir Hashim’s secretary.
The executive clearly did not take the pre-warnings seriously; that would have set an example to the rest. If the President did not care, why should his men who depended on him for furtherance their careers? Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, if he was told, decided not to poach on President Sirisena’s territory and bring about another constitutional imbroglio. It was criminal negligence – criminal and negligence both.
We state our main conjecture, which, despite its considerable explanatory value, is yet to be backed by hard evidence: The origin of the Easter bombing was the perception that a free Muslim vote would impede the return to power of the Rajapaksas. Its purpose, as the unfolding drama suggested, was to use the anger of Christian communities affected to leverage a wider retaliation against Muslims. If so, it suggests the involvement of a section of the Deep State, something many politicians knowingly tolerated. To overcome a free Muslim vote, required creating conditions where most Muslims would not vote (like the Northerners in 2005) or would vote under an overhanging threat.
This brings us once more to Army Mohideen, whom we first encountered in the Kattankudy incident of March 2017. Mohideen, we said, was accessible and was picked up by the Police soon after the Easter blasts. On 26th April 2019 (e.g. ITV Report), the international media disclosed a police raid on a house in Sammanthurai where chemicals and bomb making materials were found with which they associated Army Mohideen. OIC Wedagedara told the PSC that Mohideen was an army informant and also linked to a senior politician in the 2015 elections. That link with Military Intelligence entailed that Mohideen could not work independently or cross the interests of the Army for many years.
Interestingly, Army Commander Senanayake has practically refused to look at the possibility of local origins of the Easter terror, and has dogmatically stuck with foreign connections, insisting that the Zahran group has travelled to Bangalore, Kashmir and Kerala, without supporting evidence (BBC interview 3 May.2019). It matches the Army lobbying for greater investment in intelligence, when its performance points to incompetence or worse.
On the whole we are being asked to believe what is not just highly improbable, but almost impossible. That is one of the characteristics of the Deep State’s actions, where behaviour predicated by minimal respect for law and rationality has been thrown overboard. Entertaining the delusion of total impunity, these actions were reckless, lacking in foresight and a total absence of humanity. It takes us back to where we began. Observance of the spirit of the law must be taken very seriously and reminds us of the discarded judicial oath ‘to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour.’
In the foregoing what we have established is that the Easter Tragedy, although not necessarily a conspiracy, was enabled to happen because from the time of independence, the law has been treated as dispensable when it comes to partisan interests of narrow nationalist ideology. It enabled sections of the powerful to form shifting alliances to further particular goals of Sinhalisation.
The Deep State exists because its aims draw wide sympathy across the political spectrum, from Jayewardene’s UNP on the Right, the SLFP and SLPP, to the muddled Left of Weerawamsa and the PNM. Its strength is indicated in the lack of public indignation and the silence of the political establishment in the face of outrages like past episodes of communal violence, the more recent torment of Muslims, and the barely masked indifference to examine and reflect on the mass graves from the second JVP insurgency reminiscent of Pol Pot’s Cambodia.