Sri Lanka blasts: Tussle for power between President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe proves costly

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Published: April 23, 2019 7:47:59 PM

Sri Lanka has been wracked by political divisions since an unprecedented constitutional crisis last year, when President Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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The political tussle between Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe caused a catastrophic security lapse, allowing a little-known radical Islamic group to carry out the country’s worst terror attack on Easter Sunday, Lankan media and ministers have said.

Sri Lankan media and some ministers have criticised the rift between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe after it emerged that authorities had prior intelligence from India and the US about the possible attacks by the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) jihadist group.

Suspected NTJ suicide bombers triggered a series of powerful explosions at three Catholic churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, killing at least 321 people and wounding nearly 500 others.

After the attacks shook the island nation, Sri Lankan Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the Cabinet were not informed about the intelligence tipoff and the terror threat.

Sri Lanka has been wracked by political divisions since an unprecedented constitutional crisis last year, when President Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Wickremesinghe was reinstated in December after the intervention of the Supreme Court, but the government remains deeply divided and Sirisena kept the prime minister Wickremesinghe from the security briefings.

“The President and the United National Party (led by Wickremesinghe) are notorious for playing political ping-pong on matters of national importance,” The Island newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday.

“If there had been anyone with an iota of intelligence, within the ranks of the current government, he or she would have swiftly acted on a warning of impending terror attacks, issued by the state intelligence outfits, more than 10 days prior to the Easter Sunday carnage,” the paper commented.

It also noted that President Sirisena, who is the Minister of Defence and the Commander-in-Chief, was out of the country on a private visit, at the time of the terror attacks.

“By its indifference and failure to avert an informed attack, this Government becomes the first of its kind in the world which perpetrated a culpable homicide with its reckless approach towards the affairs of the State,” Ceylon Today said in its editorial.

The Government cannot, in any way get away from the blame of causing holocaust on Easter Sunday due to its “incompetency and heedlessness”, it said.

“It is high time that this Government takes the security of the public serious and take relevant actions,” the paper said.

A Sri Lankan economy minister said he learned that prior warnings came from India and from the US.

“Something terrible was to happen,” Harsha de Silva told CNN about the content of those intelligence warnings.

De Silva said the Prime Minister was “kept in the dark” about the terror warnings.

Government spokesman Senaratne, who is also a health minister, said Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was removed from the National Security Council in December, and therefore did not receive confidential security briefings.

Even after the attack, members of the national security council refused to attend a meeting called by the Prime Minister, Senaratne claimed.

“I think this is the only country in the world where the security council does not like to come when summoned by the Prime Minister of the country,” he said.

De Silva, an ally of the Prime Minister, argued the Sunday’s terrible loss of life did not amount to a failure of intelligence, but a failure to mount an appropriate response to that intelligence.

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