I was asked to take the money and go - Salley | Sunday Observer

I was asked to take the money and go - Salley

Former Western Province Governor Azath Salley testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) set up to probe the Easter Sunday attack said former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had maintained close links with Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamaath (SLTJ) which had around 10,000 active supporters throughout the country, and he added that during the period 2013 to 2014 he had informed the then Defence Secretary (Rajapaksa) on several occasions, about the threat posed by extremist elements - including the breakaway National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ).

Appearing before the PSC, which met on Tuesday (June 11) for the fourth time, former Governor Salley said he who had no connection whatsoever with any terror activity was arrested on a detention order during the tenure of the former Government and offered him Rs. 500 million to leave the country or to take the money and distribute it among his party members to initiate a political campaign. Salley said one of the Government intelligence officers who came to the prison also asked him to take Rs. 500 million and leave the country.

Since1994

Salley said all Governments which ruled the country since 1994 should be held responsible for creating the present situation. He said they also informed all Defence Secretaries of this threat, since 1994, warning that there were some fundamentalist elements operating in our community. In 2010, Muslim community had to face much harassment. Some Sinhala extremists led by Buddhist monks had attacked Muslim mosques while some Muslim extremists had also resorted to unlawful activities. We also informed former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa several times, but still no action was taken.

He said, “I called in public to arrest Saharan Hashim while I was on a TV program in March, 2017. I called for his arrest after he had led marches in Kattankudy, (Eastern Province) under ISIS banners. We have also produced a video which shows Zaharan hoisting an ISIS flag but no action was taken. A group led by Saharan had destroyed 120 houses in Kattankudy and while people continuously protested, the Police did nothing. In fact, the OIC in charge of the Police station who attempted to arrest Saharan was transferred. It was obvious the NTJ and the Police worked together in Kattankudy and Saharan was just allowed to go on freely.”

Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne queried the witness asking despite the fact that he provided information on Saharan since 2014, was he aware that Zaharan could have been among the 26 individuals who were paid for providing intelligence information during the tenture of the former Government? Salley told the PSC that they were aware that Abdul Razick was among them. He said one Sinhala Buddhist organization had also been paid money. Minister Senaratne said one newspaper website had reported that Saharan and 26 others were paid money by the Defence Ministry. Those who were in power at that time had been forced to remove that news item. However, there had been a group of individuals who had been paid money. Minister Senaratne said that may be the reason why Kattankudy Police became helpless without taking any action against Saharan. The Minister said all former Defence Secretaries knowingly or unknowingly have protected Saharan. Minister Ravi Karunanayake asked Salley- except for Saharan, are there any other such extremist people, he replied yes, but said he cannot disclose them right now.

Salley testifying before the Committee demanded to know why relevant authorities had failed to arrest Abdul Razik who promoted violence in public and even after having claimed on many videos that Islam is ISIS in Sri Lanka. He said traditional Muslims are totally against extremism. When there is an individual who is spreading hate speech and there is ample evidence against him, no one seeks to apprehend him.

Following the Easter Sunday disaster, I pointed out to the IGP that those who carried out the suicide attacks were the very same people whose names we had already submitted to Policee. When the Committee asked if Abdul Razick poses a threat, Salley said it was possible.

PSC member MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa questioned whether former Governor Salley has any documents backing his complaints made against these extremist organizations. He produced a report that there were 11 complaints made against Saharan and his accomplices at Kattankudy Police station. Salley said the force that prevented the arrest of Abdul Razick should have defended the extremist groups such as Saharan.

Former Governor Salley said Zaharan had extended support to political parties in the Eastern Province but many had questioned how he could help several parties within a precinct. Even Saharan has attempted to help MP Ameer Ali but he had refused. Finally he had signed an agreement with M.L.A.M. Hizbullah during the parliamentary election campaign in August, 2015.

Sharia Uni

Minister Ravi Karunanayake asked Salley does he approve the statement by former Eastern Province Governor Hizbullah. Salley said he condemn that statement when attempts are made at this juncture to create national harmony and national identity among communities. “However, Hizbullah may not be happy as certain sections attempt to describe Batticaloa University as a Sharia university. Why did Ven.Rathana thera conducted a ‘fast unto death’ campaign in the Dalada Maligawa precincts? Ven. Rathana thera desecrated the sacred Dalada Maligawa. Salley also produced a video on Rathana thera’s speech made after calling off the fast. Sally said the Pohottuwa people are also behind these incidents though they have not been taken into custody. However, ‘our people are being taken into custody’. Today , at home , we are not even allowed a butter knife.

Testifying before the PSC which met on Thursday (June 13) for the fifth time, former Governor of the Eastern Province M.L.A.M. Hizbullah said he met Zahran Hashim in 2015 and he was not a ‘terrorist’ at that time. Zaharan was a leader of a religious group and he summoned all candidates who contested our district for a meeting. He said Zaharan sought their agreement with a list of demands prepared by him and they agreed to them. “We all agreed to his demands. Even the candidates of SLMC, UNP and UPFA were there. Because we needed Saharan’s support, we agreed to his demands. He had command of over 2,000 to 3,000 votes. Therefore, our objective was only to get votes.”Former Governor Hizbullah said in the last General Election, Zahran worked against him. “I couldn’t get around 2,000 votes because of him and I lost my chance to enter Parliament by 121 votes. Then, I could secure a National List slot but Zahran staged protests against it as well. I am the happiest over the death of Zahran because now I can win the next election without any trouble from his group. Zahran left the village in 2017 and thereafter we didn’t hear of him. We heard of him again only after the Easter Sunday disaster.”

Asked of Hizbullah’s recent comments that in Sri Lanka Muslims are minority but they are a majority globally, the witness said his statement had been distorted by media and added that his intention was to alleviate fears of Muslims who had been terrified and worried of backlash. I wanted to encourage the people to resume their livelihood and return to normalcy. That is why I told Muslims not to harbour any fears and reminded them that we might be a minority in this country but in global context, we are the majority.

Hizbullah said Zahran and his group had links with Army personnel and there was one such person known as Army Mohideen. I think that time Mohideen had deserted the Army and he worked closely with Zahran group. The Army men in our area had close links with Zahran and his members. One such member was Niaz, a leading member of Zahran’s group.

Minister Ravi Karunanayake queried Hizbullah as to why Arabic sign boards are in Kattankudy where the Urban Council is run by his supporters. The Minister said it is not one of Sri Lanka’s languages.

Hizbullah responding to Minister Karunanayake said that is true but there is no law prohibiting Arabic sign board and they have put up them to attract tourists from Arab countries.

Arabic signs

According to Hizbullah, Date Palm trees and Arabic sign boards in Kattankudy were put up there as tourist attraction.

MP M.A. Sumanthiran questioned the Secretary whether he would accept the responsibility for introducing this new dress code, he said he would accept the responsibility as the person who signed that circular.

“MP Sumanthiran said the suicide bombers who carried out Easter Sunday attacks dressed in trousers, track shoes, T-shirts and carried back packs but you did not ban any of them. You only made guidelines with regard to the dress of women. Why is that?” Ratnasiri said there were complaints that those who come in to public offices covering their faces were a threat to security of property and persons and that is why we introduced the dress code. MP Rauff Hakeem queried the Secretary does he know that some public servants have resigned or taken leave from their jobs because of the circular in question. Ratnasiri replied that no such development has been reported to him.

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