Commandant of the Special Task Force (STF), Senior DIG M. R. Latheef, says he is still not invited to the country’s intelligence coordinating meetings and that he was invited to the National Security Council meetings only after the Easter Sunday attacks.
Testifying before the parliamentary select committee probing the terror attacks, the Senior DIG said that he had received the state intelligence chief’s letter on April 09 warning of impending attacks, along with a single annexure which had identified the Indian High Commission and main churches in Colombo as possible targets.
However, he said that he subsequently learned that there had been other annexures that had been shared with other agencies with more details.
He said those annexures had contained more specific details about the organization, what they are up to, specifics about their group and addresses and that he only received it during an interaction in the aftermath of the suicide bombings.
Mr Latheef said he then realized that there was a wealth of information on the terrorist organisation and the individuals which was available with the security organisations where preventative action could have been taken.
The STF chief said after he received the intelligence chief’s letter, he took the initiative to check with the Indian High Commission, but they did nothing about the churches because there were no specifics and no request was made for the STF’s assistance.
He said that when there is a requirement the IGP or Senior DIGs makes a request concerning assistance of the STF after which they attend to it.
“I was under the inference that the territorial policing will attend to churches and that if they required STF assistance for additional security or searches or any other requirement, they would have made a request,” he said.
Responding to a question, he stated that neither the IGP nor the Senior DIG of Western Province made any request to him for STF assistance.
He said that he knows for a fact that every Tuesday the country’s intelligence and various organizations meet to review on many things and that if the STF was an important component the STF Commandant or a representative from the STF would definitely be invited for the review meetings.
Replying to another query, he said the intelligence coordinating meeting is a very important meeting, but the STF has never been a part of that meeting in spite of the fact that at previous other meetings at Police Headquarters assertions had been made to the IGP that the STF would like to be in that meeting specially because they are providing security to the President, Prime Minister and other dignitaries.
He also said that it would have been prudent if the information had been shared with the Senior DIG in charge of the Easter Province as well because most of the suspects are originating from that province.
He said that if they had more information on this they would have definitely shared because there should be actionable intelligence or information to go on.
When asked whether he was part of the intelligence coordinating meeting held on April 09, Mr Latheef said that he was not part of the meeting and reiterated that even now he is not invited to the said meetings.
The STF Commandant said that he has made a request to attend the meetings, but has never been invited for it. “I have made a request,” he said.
However, he said that he was invited to attend the National Security Council meeting only after the attacks as he was invited for the meeting on April 23.
“Intelligence coordinating meeting I have never been invited to date, but national security meeting on the 23rd of July after the attack I was invited and then I shared what I knew.”
He said he was never invited to security council meetings before the attacks.
Senior DIG Latheef further said that he heard through the media that now everyone says that the STF should have prevented the attacks, but pointed out that for the STF to act they should have actionable intelligence and a request should be made by those who have the information.
“The STF is always there to augment or to support the police. We are part of the police and a separate arm of the police,” he added.
He also said that prior to the terror attacks, the Senior SIGs in charge of various provinces including the Easter Province had not saught the STF’s assistance with regard to any NTJ activities while requests for other matters had been made.
But the fact remains that when the 21/4 tragedy happened a lot of information came in and we have acted, he said, adding that because it was a crisis they did not wait for requests and acted on the information. “It was a national security issue.”
“I am surprised that why only after the incident they shared it with the STF,” he said.
He reiterated that the STF’s role is to augment and the STF will act only if there is a written or verbal request unless it concerns designated areas such as narcotics which they have been given freedom to act on.