Sri Lankan President Calls on Police Chief, Defense Secretary to Quit After Attacks

Parliament leader says senior officials withheld information: 'Somebody is controlling these top intelligence officials'

Security personnel stand guard near St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 24, 2019.
Jewel SAMAD / AFP

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has asked the police chief and defense secretary to quit following the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels that killed 359 people, two sources close to the president said on Wednesday. 

The sources declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter amid accusations within the government of intelligence failures ahead of the attacks. 

Earlier Wednesday, the leader of the country's parliament said senior officials deliberately withheld intelligence about possible attacks.

"Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully. Information was there, but the top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions," Lakshman Kiriella, who is also minister of public enterprise, told parliament.

Sri Lankans prepare to bury the coffins carrying remains of Berington Joseph, left, and Burlington Bevon, who were killed in the Easter Sunday bombings in Colombo, April 23, 2019.
Eranga Jayawardena,AP

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He said information on possible suicide attacks on churches, hotels and politicians were received from Indian intelligence on April 4 and a Security Council meeting was chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena on April 7, but the information was not shared more widely.

"Somebody is controlling these top intelligence officials," the minister said. "The Security Council is doing politics. We need to investigate into this."

President Maithripala Sirisena had asked the police chief and defense secretary to quit, two sources close to the president said.

Separately, Sarath Fonseka, former army chief and minister of regional development, told parliament he believed the attacks "must have been planned for at least 7-8 years."

Also Wednesday, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the death toll had risen to 359 from 321 overnight, with about 500 people wounded, but did not give a breakdown of casualties from the three churches and four hotels hit by the bombers.

ISIS said through its AMAQ news agency the assaults in Sri Lanka were carried out by seven attackers but gave no evidence to support its claim of responsibility. If true, it would be one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria.

Junior minister for defense Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament on Tuesday two Sri Lankan Islamist groups - the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim - were responsible for the blasts, which went off during Easter services and as hotels served breakfast.

Police continued searching homes across the Indian Ocean island nation overnight, leading to the detention of 18 more people. That brings the number of people taken in for questioning to close to 60, including one Syrian.

The Easter Sunday bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.

The attacks have already foreshadowed a shake-up of Sri Lankan security forces, with Sirisena saying on Tuesday night he planned to change some of his defense chiefs after criticism that intelligence warnings of an Easter attack were ignored.

Three sources told Reuters that Sri Lankan intelligence officials had been warned by India hours before the blasts that attacks by Islamists were imminent. It was not clear what action, if any, was taken.

Most of those killed and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were also killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

The UN Children’s Fund said 45 children were among the dead.