Minister Sagala Ratnayake says that he had received 13 intelligence reports regarding the Islamic State organisation during his time as the Minister of Law & Order, including one about the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ).
He revealed this information while giving evidence before the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter Sunday attacks, at the parliament complex today (5).
The minister said that 13 intelligence information regarding ISIS have been provided to him by the State Intelligence Service (SIS) during his term in office as Law & Order Minister, from November 2015 to February 2018.
He said that the then Defence Secretary also provided him with a report based on a question raised by him regarding the organisation.
However, Ratnayake said he is unable to submit the SIS’s information to the committee as it could impede their activities, but red out some excerpts and the titles of the content.
He said one of the reports was regarding Indian nationals suspected to be linked to IS staying in Sri Lanka while some information was not related to Sri Lanka, such as attacks carried out abroad by the terror group and launch of their magazine.
However, he added that one of the reports was titled “National Thowheed Jamaath making declarations accepting ISIS ideology’.
He said this report was received on 11-02-2016 and that it contained information about the NTJ posting on websites that the ideology of ISIS is correct.
“This is the first report I received that contained the name of Zahran,” he said, referring to the NTJ leader suspected of being the mastermind of the attacks on April 21.
The minister said that he had also received a “concept paper on countering potential threats of ISIS” on August 16, 2016 signed by the then Defence Secretary Karusena Hettiarachchi.
He also said that he held a meeting with the Defence Secretary and other heads of security as well as intelligence chiefs on the matter.
“I said the ISIS terrorist threat is everywhere in the world now and that we have to have some preparation regarding that,” he said.
He also said that intelligence sharing is very, very important this process was supposed to initiate intelligence sharing within the country.
“I think intelligence sharing with the international intelligence agencies has gone very well. Because you see the results of that. But I am not sure what happened locally. That I don’t know,” he said, adding that he left office in February 2018.
“Because they didn’t report to me I can’t verify how much intelligence sharing took place, but certainly that was the idea,” the minister said.
He said the idea was on paper, but he cannot say whether it actually happened on ground.
The minister said that in February 2017 they also formed a special unit within the Terrorism Investigations Division (TID) to deal with religious extremism in the country. He said this unit was instructed to look into Zahran.
Responding to a question regarding the state intelligence service, he said: “I don’t think the SIS was a hit-or-miss operation, they were fairly structured.”
It had a good reporting structure, he said, adding that although the SIS was a branch of the police, it was reporting to the Defence Ministry.
Responding to a question, Ratnayake said that the country’s intelligence structure reports to the Ministry of Defence.
Ratnayake also said that there were no reports of NTJ being armed, planning suicide blasts, collecting explosives or testing bombs during his term in office.