Nalaka de Silva’s revelations at PSC : TID sent weekly reports on NTJ to IGP since 2016 | Sunday Observer

Nalaka de Silva’s revelations at PSC : TID sent weekly reports on NTJ to IGP since 2016

 DIG Nalaka De Silva     Pics by Ranjith Asanka
DIG Nalaka De Silva Pics by Ranjith Asanka

On June 4, it was Ex-TID Chief Nalaka De Silva’s turn to appear before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing into the Easter Sunday terror attacks. It was the first time the public would hear from De Silva who on May 21 had been bailed out, after being arrested and remanded in October last year when he was accused of instigating a VIP assassination plot.

The beleaguered former Chief of the Police Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) arriving in a wheelchair and sporting a neck brace made a dramatic entrance as he was wheeled into the committee room by two attendants.

As the current Chiefs of the State Intelligence Service, Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) of the Police stayed away from the hearing despite being called in to give testimony, the PSC only heard De Silva’s testimony on the day.

Revealing testimony

TID investigation report on NTJ sent to IGP in 2018

Nevertheless, De Silva provided a very revealing testimony before the PSC on the TID investigations into terror mastermind Zahran Hashim and the eventual collapse of the investigations which may have contributed to the attacks taking place on the fateful day, unfettered by law enforcement and security officials. His shocking revelations now appear to corroborate with a report sent to the IGP by the TID dated November 2018 which surfaced after the attacks. It revealed that the TID had commenced investigations under file numbers PTIR 48/2017, TIR 63/2018 and TIR 64/2018 into Zahran Hashim and his group.

Testifying before the PSC, De Silva revealed that he had commenced gathering information on terror mastermind Zahran Hashim early as 2013. “At the time I was the Deputy Director - Counter-Terrorism at the SIS,” he said before the PSC chaired by parliamentarian Dr Jayampathi Wickramaratne. According to the former TID Chief, the SIS had already received information on the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) and similar organisations during the time.

Taking over the TID in 2015, De Silva claimed investigations into the terror suspect was intensified after a special unit was formed to monitor his social media and internet activity. “Analysing the content we understood he was moving towards violent extremism,” De Silva told the PSC adding that following the 2017 incident in Kattankudy where a group led by Hashim attacked Sufi Muslims in the area he was instructed by Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara to also look into Hashim.

While the unit had monitored Hashim’s social media and internet activity on a daily basis since 2016, De Silva revealed that the TID was not only monitoring Hashim but his family members as well. But according to De Silva’s testimony, Hashim’s activities became more prolific when his social media activity increased following the Digana attacks in March 2018. De Silva claimed Hashim clearly took a sharp turn towards violent extremism at the time prompting authorities to seek him out. “He was taking Muslim youth towards extremism,” he said explaining that social media posts of Hashim hinted at violent terrorism while he openly justified actions of the international terror outfit ISIS in videos uploaded to his social media pages.

“We wanted to bring him in for questioning but we were unable to locate him in his usual haunts such as Kattankudy and Kurunegala,” he told the PSC. The TID, according to De Silva had then gone on to obtain an open warrant for Hashim’s arrest on July 2, 2018, which would assist them in obtaining a Blue Notice from the INTERPOL as the TID suspected he may have gone into hiding overseas. The warrant for his arrest taken out by the TID had been out till the attacks occurred on April 21. The authorities had never been able to arrest Hashim.

IGP informed

De Silva during his testimony also revealed that the IGP had been informed of the NTJ and Zahran Hashim on a weekly basis since the end of 2016. “I sent a number reports on Zahran to the IGP since the end of 2016” De Silva said.

According to De Silva, it was the IGP himself who had requested that he be briefed on the status of the investigation every Monday through a weekly report. De Silva confirmed that accordingly reports were sent to the IGP every Monday while matters of urgency on national security were informed immediately. One such report dated November 21, 2018 reveals the girth of information the TID had at hand and proves they had regularly updated the IGP on Hashim and his activities. The report also reveals the list of dates on which the TID had submitted similar reports to the IGP.

According to De Silva, he as TID Director since 2015 had also informed the Secretary of Defence during the weekly intelligence review meetings of the impending threat. “When I attended these meetings during the time I submitted a number of reports to the Secretary mentioning that we are monitoring Zahran,” he said.

Taking a step further in 2017, De Silva had recommended the proscription of the NTJ after recognising the danger posed by the group. This is proven through the now publicly available report sent to the IGP. It reads “On 7 June 2017, under the reference No EER/08/17 a file was prepared and forwarded to the Attorney General’s Department, requesting that legal action be taken against this organisation and its members. However, to date, no advice has been received from the Attorney General in this regard”.

But questioned if the IGP had forwarded these reports to higher authorities De Silva said he was unaware about it.. “However, had he received any instructions from those higher up he would have definitely informed me,” De Silva said. According to De Silva, the TID however, continued its investigations unhindered.

However, PSC member MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka pressed on questioning De Silva if the SIS had taken over investigations into the NTJ. Reading out a communique sent by the IGP to the Secretary of the Ministry on April 10, he said “In reference to the above to prevent any disruptions in secretive intelligence operations going forward the Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) has requested that investigations being conducted on my advice by the TID to be halted and therefore I will take the necessary steps to halt them”.

Refuting that SIS had taken over investigations into Zahran Hashim and the NTJ leading up to the attacks, De Silva said the SIS had only requested the TID to halt investigations into an individual identified as Mohamed Nilamdeen and not into Zahran Hashim. “They said it would harm their investigations,” De Silva said.

But the question on the minds of many was whether De Silva’s arrest had affected the investigations being carried out by the TID into Zahran Hashim and his terror outfit.

Could the April 21 attacks been prevented if De Silva was not arrested? De Silva was taken into custody over an alleged VIP assassination plot based on information provided by Namal Kumara, an informant of the TID.

Responding De Silva said he believed the attack could have been minimised if the investigation had been carried out with the same intensity as when he headed the TID prior to his arrest in October 2018. According to De Silva till his arrest, the investigations had been conducted in a methodical manner with a clear strategy in place.

“Investigations after my arrest could not have stopped as one’s duty must be carried out,” he said, adding that however, not having him for guidance would have affected the investigating officers. De Silva explained to the PSC that taking over the TID, he had directed investigators towards a possible threat of Islamic extremism.

“Till then they were merely focused on the LTTE and had no knowledge of this new threat” he revealed.

“I am the one who directed them towards the subject. I am the one who pointed out the emerging new threat. I created a special unit for it and appointed officers to it.

I sent them for foreign training while receiving training myself. I gave TID the leadership to carry out this process.” he told the PSC emphatically.

In fact, till his arrest, De Silva had attempted to locate Hashim failing which he had obtained an open warrant for his arrest. This, in turn, allowed the TID to obtain an INTERPOL Blue Notice on Hashim had he gone into hiding abroad.

The TID had also informed the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) and the Sri Lanka Computer Readiness Team (SLCERT) about the social media activities of Zahran Hashim and the NTJ so that they would take the necessary action. De Silva had even requested the NTJ be banned.

“The strategy was in my head and after I left that could not continue. I was going to put that plan into action after his arrest. The attacks could have become minimal if so even if we are not able to fully stop them” he noted.