State Minister of Defence explores global links to Easter Sunday terror attacks

Sri Lanka's Minister of Mass Media Ruwan Wijewardene (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)

April 24, 2019 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene has elaborated on several of the global aspects of Sri Lanka’s deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks. Following his highly anticipated address to Parliament, the State Minister granted access to the global media who have thronged Sri Lanka to tell the world the story of one of the world’s most devastating terror attacks in history.

Wijewardene is the first senior figure in Sri Lanka’s defence establishment to grant full access to foreign media after the deadly terrorist attacks that have put the country in a state of near paralysis. There are curfews in the night, schools remain closed, and the capital city of Colombo is quiet.

In a 40 minute press conference with global media, he was exposed to many of the questions that the world wants answers to. Topics included profiles of the attackers, information on local terrorist organisations, the status of investigations, and what exactly happened on Easter Sunday.

He explored links that some of the attackers had outside of Sri Lanka, highlighting one individual that had studied in the UK, graduated, and then lived in Australia while doing his post graduate studies. Global links that the attackers have are sparking interest among the locals as Islamic radicalisation is a concept that has not been a major issue in Sri Lanka before.

He also elaborated on the connection to the New Zealand attacks saying that Sri Lankan authorities believe that the Christchurch attacks were a ‘motivational’ factor that may have caused churches to be attacked on Easter Sunday. Global media have questioned the claim that the attacks are related. However the theory of motivational impact can not be discarded as one of the suicide bombers had regularly been posting incendiary messages relating to the incident on social media.

He acknowledged links that Sri Lanka has with other global intelligence agencies and that information regarding this attack did not reach all the officials that it should have, including himself. Wijewardene and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had been excluded from national security briefings after Sri Lanka’s constitutional crisis began on October 26, 2019.

The Prime Minister and Wijewardene have come under criticism for not demanding to be included in the security briefings and forcing their inclusion which has been the historical convention. This criticism fails to acknowledge the delicate position that they were in with regards to relations with the President.

The Prime Minister had just a few months ago been restored to his position from what Sri Lanka’s Speaker of Parliament termed “a coup without guns.” ¬†Tensions were high between the two factions in government which was stressing the functions of all aspects of administration. In some sense the Prime Minister and Wijewardene were doing the best they could to cohabit with an uncooperative President while preventing the total collapse of governmental function.

The Prime Minister and Wijewardene have been out in front of the media during the crisis, taking criticism from all angles and responding with humility and resolve. They have been guiding the nation through one of its most difficult times in full public view. They have not been hiding and are attempting to be transparent and accountable.

With regards to other figures in the national security sphere there has been much less communication. Heads are beginning to roll with the President reportedly requesting the resignation of his Defense Secretary and IGP. The President has also publicly denied having been privy to actionable intelligence, a claim that has not yet been directly challenged.