‘Leave no stone unturned to nip the menace in the bud’ | Sunday Observer

‘Leave no stone unturned to nip the menace in the bud’

Minister Rishad Bathiudeen
Minister Rishad Bathiudeen

Dismissing outright media reports of links with Chairman, Colombo Traders’Association, Ibrahim Hajiar, arrested by the Police at Dematagoda regarding Easter Sunday’s bomb attacks, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Resettlement of Protracted Displaced Persons, Cooperative Development, Skills Development and Vocational Training, Rishad Bathiudeen said all extremist organisations based on religion such as the National Thowheed Jamaath should be banned immediately in Sri Lanka.

No religion should have communal organisations which promote extremism, terrorism or fanaticism, he said.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer Minister Bathiudeen said all religious leaders and Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities should leave no stone unturned to nip in the bud the dreaded menace of terrorist organisations including the ISIS in Sri Lanka.

Q: Using a photograph on social media, allegations have been levelled against you of a connection with a prominent businessman who was arrested at Dematagoda regarding Easter Sunday’s attacks. What’s the reality?

A: The arrested businessman, Ibrahim Hajiar is Chairman of the Colombo Traders’ Association (CTA). In 2017, he and CTA members met me and my ministry officials to discuss issues pertaining to their association. We helped them sort out their problems. At present rumours and statements are being spreadagainst me using the photographs of that meeting. As a Muslim, I am completely against terrorism and vehemently condemn Easter Sunday’s bomb attacks. If the arrested businessman or his sons have any link to those attacks, they should be punished. It should definitely happen and we are not against it. In fact, I don’t have any personal business interest or links with him. Terrorism is devoid of politics, colour, religion or relationships. I categorically state what we discussed at that meeting was only business matters relating to CTA. It is wrong and unethical to use photographs taken at that meeting to attack me for political mileage.

Q: Early investigations revealed that a local Islamic fundamentalist group called National Thowheed Jamaath was responsible for Easter Sunday’s attacks. Later the ISIS took responsibility. How do you explain this turn of events?

A: Saharan Hashim is the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath. Jamir Ulema Council is represented by Muslim intellectuals and politicians.

This Council had provided information to the Defence Ministry and security establishments that Saharan Hashim was identified as one who indoctrinates people, disseminates false information, speaks for the ISIS and rallies people around to advance its cause. The Jamir Ulema Council said that defence authorities didn’t take this issue seriously. At present talks are on that National Thowheed Jamaath leader Saharan Hashim has links with ISIS. Therefore, I am of the view that Saharan Hashim and his members should be arrested and this organisation should be immediately banned in Sri Lanka.

Q: After a lapse of a peaceful 10 years our people are facing these brutal terrorist attacks. Analysts have explained that the magnitude of the attacks is worse than those of the LTTE. Isn’t this a serious threat to national security?

A: Definitely. Bomb explosions have occurred in the US and some European countries. It has become a dangerous threat to our country as well. We should not treat this situation lightly.

It is very serious. We should seek the assistance, experience and knowhow of other countries to tackle this menace. The Muslim society, politicians and the majority of Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders are against this terrorism sponsored and promoted by sections of Muslim fanatics. Therefore, all religious leaders and Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities should leave no stone unturned to nip this dreaded menace in the bud.

Q: Will these incidents lead to create hostility between Sinhala and Muslim communities?

A: Some politicians, religious leaders and certain sections of the media attempt to create disharmony between Sinhala and Muslim communities. The enlightened should not permit this kind of incendiary developments in the interest of peace.

I would with great respect cite Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith as a classic example in this regard. He is the typical role model for all other religious leaders to follow. In the midst of this carnage, he maintained his composure appealing to the people to observe calm and avoid taking recourse in violence, leaving the Government, Police and the Security Forces to ferret out those responsible for this calamity and bring them to book.

Q: The Opposition and certain sections allege that some Government politicians exerted undue influence to release the suspects arrested at Wanathavilluwa?

A: If any politician had a hand in seeking the release of those suspects, it is completely wrong. When attempts are made by the security forces to combat terrorist activities, nobody has the right to obstruct or interfere with them.

If a politician had used his authority to have those suspects released from arrest in the Wanathavilluva case, I called upon the Defence Secretary to disclose their names in my speech made in Parliament on Wednesday (April 24). I have never interfered with action taken by the security forces against terrorism.

Q: Many people complain that all extremist organisations formed on the basis of religion such as the National Thowheed Jamaath should be banned in Sri Lanka. Your comments?

A: I too fully agree that all extremist organisations should be banned in Sri Lanka. No religion should have communal organisations which promote extremism, terrorism or fanaticism.

Q: There is an allegation that steps were not taken to prevent this disaster when the intelligence services had confirmed the threat of this extremist Muslim fundamentalist group. What went wrong?

A: If prompt action was taken by the authorities, these Thowheed Jamaath led terrorist attacks could have been prevented. Bomb explosions were also engineered in the US, France and some other countries as well. These countries have their advanced intelligence services but they could not prevent those terrorist attacks. ISIS is not a small organisation.

We should, therefore, take steps not to permit similar incidents in future without pointing an accusing finger at the President, Prime Minister or intelligence services. Actually there is no point of harping on these tragic incidents as it would further dishearten people. However, the security forces have already arrested some suspects connected to these blasts.

Q: The Opposition holds the Government responsible for this bloodletting carnage. What is your opinion?

A: Yes, the President, Prime Minister and the entire Government should take full responsibility. I also have my share of responsibility as I am also a member of the Government.

We apologise to our countrymen and especially the aggrieved parties. We are ashamed of failing to check this disaster well in time.

Q: UNP National List MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera and certain sections of people have raised concern on the Burka worn by Muslim women. UNP National List MP Prof. Ashu Marasinghe has presented a Private Members Motion requesting the ban on the burka in Sri Lanka. Your views, please.

A: Ven.Rathana Thera or others cannot ban the Burka as they like. There is the Muslim Affairs Ministry and Muslim Cultural Department and as such a decision on this issue has to be taken together with these institutions, Muslim leaders and intellectuals.

Some Muslim religious leaders and politicians are of the same view. Anybody is free to express his views and there shall not be any objection to it. An extensive discussion should be conducted by the Muslim Affairs Ministry and the Jamir Ulema Council on this.

Q: What action should be taken to prevent the repetition of similar incidents in future?

A: We should all unite as members of one family to prevent these brutal terrorist attacks irrespective of petty political and religious differences, caste or creed. Everybody should join hands to eradicate ISIS terrorism from Sri Lanka.

The media should also cooperate as it has a responsible role to play in this regard.

The media should not attempt to gain undue advantage from this critical situation to claim being ‘number one’.