Sri Lankan Secretary of Defense resigns over security failings in attacks


Sri Lankan security personnel check vehicles and bags in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr.25, 2019. EPA-EFE/M.A. PUSHPA KUMARA

COLOMBO. .- The Secretary of Defense of Sri Lanka resigned on Thursday over security failings in the Easter Sunday attacks, while thousands of soldiers have been deployed to protect public spaces.

Hemasiri Fernando announced his resignation after it was revealed that the country’s security agencies received information in advance about.

In a letter he said that he had systematically «disseminated the intelligence information received about the attacks on the competent officials and departments» and that he had complied with his «duty.»

«But some key officers and departments did not act accordingly and as a result we have had to face this situation, I am going to resign to facilitate the investigation to the committee in charge,» he said.

It came on the same day that around 4,000 military personnel, with sweeping police powers to arrest suspects, were tasked to provide security to churches and other religious places across the country.

The Secretary of Defense occupies the third position in the chain of command of office after the country’s president, Maithripala Sirisena, who also holds the post of defense minister, and who is followed by the Deputy Minister of Defense, Ruwan Wijewardene.

Fernando’s decision comes after several officials, including Sirisena, revealed that the heads of the intelligence agencies received information from allied countries in advance about the attacks, that killed 359 people, but did not act.

Wijewardene acknowledged at a press conference on Wednesday with foreign media that there was a «slip» within the country’s intelligence teams that received information about the attacks and that they «deliberately» decided not to inform Sirisena or the nation’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The protocols were breached to take the information to the highest level, for which the authorities admit to not having acted «opportunely».

A source told Efe that Sirisena requested on Wednesday the resignation of Fernando and the Inspector General of the Police, Pujith Jayasundara.

On Thursday a total of 3,984 military personnel were deployed in coordination with the police to provide security to religious places and vital installations like power stations, government buildings, hospitals, hotels, bus stands, and television centers.

A statement from the Ministry of Defense said hundreds of army officers and other ranks “immediately took up position” across the country after the armed forces were conferred with “the powers of search, detention or arrest without warrant”.

All embassies and diplomatic missions have also been provided necessary security.

Security has also been beefed up at highways, public markets, bridges and “all other vulnerable points”, the statement said.

The troops “have begun foot patrols, vehicle patrols and static patrols in all major cities and suburbs” of the country, it added.

The island nation has been in a state of emergency since Monday following a presidential order from Sirisena after suicide bombers in coordinated attacks hit three luxury hotels in Colombo and three churches around the country during Easter services.

A few hours later, a seventh blast rocked a small hotel near the Dehiwala Zoo, about 12 km south of the capital, while an eighth explosion took place at a residential compound in Dematagoda in Colombo.

Sri Lankan authorities on Thursday reduced the death toll to 253, almost a hundred less than previously feared.

It was previously reported that 359 people, including 39 foreigners, were killed and 500 injured in the carnage claimed by Islamic State militant group.

Local authorities blamed the error on a difficulty in calculating how many victims there were.

«To date, the death toll in the terrorist attack on Sunday has been revised to 253, and not 359 as previously reported,» Prasanna Adikari, director of the communication department of the Ministry of Health, said in a statement.

Adikari said that the previous count has been corrected «following the complicated process of counting the corpses in the Colombo morgue.»

As details of the attackers emerged, Wijewardene said in Colombo on Wednesday that investigations were ongoing to see if there was any “direct link” to any international terror organization.

Local authorities said obscure local extremist groups – National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim – carried out the bombings.

Some 60 Sri Lankan suspects who may have aided the suicide bombers have been arrested.

Security forces have also found and defused numerous explosive devices in different parts of Colombo that are presumed to be connected with these attacks.

In a related development, security forces on Thursday carried out widespread search operations following bomb scares in different parts of the island.

“We have given instructions to carry out searches, and deployed personnel to do so. All traffic police teams deployed for search operations have also been armed,” Deputy Inspector General Ajith Rohana told Efe.

Makeshift checkpoints were set up across the country to carry out detailed searches of vehicles.

The moves come after a series of warnings was issued by the State Intelligence Services on possible car bomb attacks in the country.

Access road to the country’s only international airport in Colombo was closed temporarily when security teams could not determine the ownership of a vehicle parked without owner details.

The Easter bombings the worst attack since the Sri Lankan civil war between Tamil guerrillas and government ended in 2009.

The 26-year-old conflict claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, according to data from the United Nations. EFE-EPA

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