New information about the mastermind behind the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attack has come to light following a startling revelation made by the former State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry hearing.
On July 28 (Tuesday), former SIS Director Nilantha Jayawardena revealed in his testimony to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the terror attacks, that the mastermind behind the attacks was a person known as Naufer Moulavi.
“Zahran Hashim is not the founder of the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), it was his mentor Naufer Moulavi who founded it. Nawfer was living in Qatar for 19 years and he had links with various foreign groups, Naufer Moulavi is like Anton Balasingham,” he had reportedly testified.
By comparing Moulavi to Balasingham, who was the chief political strategist for the terror group the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE), the former intelligence Director was identifying Moulavi as the theorist behind the NTJ ideology.
Until recently, it was Zaharan Hashim who had been identified as the leader of the fundamentalist group NTJ that carried out the series of coordinated bombings that killed at least 267 and injured more than 500 civilians.
According to Jayawardena’s testimony, however, Moulavi from the NTJ, which had been under state surveillance since 2016, was the architect of the attack.
In 2016, Jayawardena noted, the Islamic State (IS) terror group had identified Sri Lanka as part of the Khorasan province (historical territory which includes parts of present day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan) in its plan to establish a caliphate.
It was following this that a group of Sri Lankans had joined the IS. This was brought to attention by former Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe in 2016 but not much attention was paid to his allegations at the time. The group that joined the IS included a person who went on to be one of the bombers in the 2019 Easter Sunday attack.
Nawfer Moulavi is currently in custody, having been arrested last year after the attacks.
The fact that there had been several instances which warned of a potential terror attack organised by fundamentalist groups in the country is no secret.
According to Jayawardena, in 2018, the SIS had warned former Minister of Law and Order Ranjith Maddumabandara that a proliferation of places of worship, especially mosques, could lead to conflict between various religious groups.
He further conceded in his testimony that intelligence sharing between local authorities had not been carried out properly during his term in office.
He explained that ten months prior to the bombings, the SIS had informed the then Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis about the threat of an attack. Sharing reports and warnings of this nature required a cautious balancing act with the previous government, which, he acknowledged, was divided.
"Former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe represented two major political parties. Thus the intelligence service always had to think about the political implications of that [intelligence sharing]," he said.
PCoI on Easter Sunday Attacks
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the terror attack was appointed by the former President Maithripala Sirisena on September 21, 2019.
Since then those testifying before the hearing have revealed important information that has led to significant milestones in the investigations.
The Commission's first interim report was submitted to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in December.
The five-member Commission is headed by Court of Appeal Judge Janak de Silva and compromises of Appeal Judge Nissanka Bandula Karunaratna and retired Court of Appeal Judge Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa and retired High Court judge Bandula Kumara Atapattu. Retired Ministry Secretary W.M.M. Adikari and retired Ministry Secretary Chandrani Senaratne.