A matter of concern for the Government is the fear of growing religious extremism. This saw an extended meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) chaired by President Sirisena at his Paget Road residence. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Public Safety Minister Sagala Ratnayake, State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene, Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiaratchchi, the Police Chief, Armed Forces chiefs and heads of intelligence services were the usual participants. Those invited for the special meeting included Ministers Patali Champika Ranawaka, Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiuddin, former Colombo Mayor A.J.M. Muzamil and Venerable Athureliya Rathana Thera, MP.
The meeting began with a presentation by Nilantha Jayawardena, Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) on how a little over 20 extremist groups of different ethnicities have begun operating and were threatening ethnic harmony. He identified each group by giving the names of those leading it. He referred to some Buddhist monks and also to a few Muslim groups, the Thowheed Jamaath in particular. He spoke of the departure of some Muslim families to join the ISIS.
Ven. Rathana Thera was critical of all those groups. He said those claiming to be representatives of the Buddhist clergy were not believers of the Buddha Sasana. Similarly, he warned that extreme Muslim groups had to be watched. He asked why no mention was made in the SIS presentation of purported ISIS representatives coming to Sri Lanka under cover of preaching. Hakeem was to point out that these groups were created and nurtured under the previous Rajapaksa regime under different guises.
The day after the NSC meeting (on November 18), Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told Parliament that 32 members of four Sri Lankan families had joined ISIS. The fact that a smaller Muslim group had joined is nothing new. It was reported in the Sunday Times (Café Spectator) of December 27, 2015. The report then said “A state intelligence arm has warned the Government over what it fears is the radicalisation of Muslim groups turning out to be supporters of the ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The concerns are reflected in a top secret report sent to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The report comes in the wake of two foreign governments informing about what they believe is ISIS activity in Sri Lanka.
The Government has learnt that 45 Sri Lankans from nine families have entered Syria where heavy fighting is now raging. This is after arriving in Turkey and crossing the border. Some had even transited in Pakistan to cover their trail. Whilst some are engaged in combat roles, others are said to be deployed in logistical tasks……”
Rajapakshe warned that though the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was not in operation at the moment, it seems that the situation developing in the country would pave the way to enact it again. How he came to make such a remark which reflects Government policy without ministerial approval is unclear. The statement was to cause concern at the highest levels of the Government. So much so, official Government spokesperson Minister Rajitha Senaratne was asked to deny Rajapakshe’s claims at Thursday’s news conference.
Senaratne said the defence establishment had denied any record of 32 Sri Lankans joining the ISIS in “recent times.” He added “the Sri Lankans from four families had left a long time ago and they did not leave from here.” He made clear that Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s remarks during the budget debate were not the policy of the Government but his own view. However, the damage was done. Several leading Muslim groups, most of whom supported President Sirisena at the presidential elections and the UNP at the parliamentary elections, raised issue.
They lodged protests and issued statements condemning the Government. At the NSC meeting President Sirisena directed Police Chief Pujith Jayasundera to arrest those responsible for causing racial unrest, hate speech and related acts. The latter has already sent out instructions to Police countrywide.
At their weekly meeting on Tuesday, ministers also discussed setting up special courts to hear cases. Justice Minister Rajapakshe wanted those proposing the idea to give him the details. Minister Senaratne noted that cases in normal courts took an extremely long time. Minister Ranawaka was to note that something had to be done before the next elections. Those responsible for mega scams should be brought to book before that, he added.
Courtesy: Sunday Times