The president of Sri Lanka blamed security officials for not warning him of terrorist threats and said the country’s prosecution of military intelligence officers after its long civil war left it vulnerable to attack, as he sought Friday to deflect blame from the Easter Sunday bombings.
“Action will be taken against all officials who neglected their duties,” President Maithripala Sirisena said, according to local news outlets. He added that a “total reorganization” of the security apparatus would take place in the days to come.
Mr. Sirisena, who is also defense minister, has come under intense criticism after the suicide bombings. Sri Lankan security officials had written a memo 10 days before the attacks describing the threat of bombings, with names, addresses and phone numbers of those believed involved, but it was not shared widely.
Sri Lanka’s government has been consumed by months of infighting, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, a rival of the president, complained that he was excluded from security meetings.
[ISIS reminded the world that it does not need to control territory to be a major threat.]
Mr. Sirisena said Friday that he too did not receive important intelligence, and blamed the defense secretary, Hemasiri Fernando, and the inspector general of the police, Pujith Jayasundara, along with several senior police officials. Mr. Fernando stepped down Thursday, and the president said he believed Mr. Jayasundara would on Friday.
Mr. Sirisena, who made the remarks off camera to reporters in Colombo, the capital, said security forces were carrying out widespread arrests, with more than 70 people being held so far. He said he believed there were as many as 140 supporters of the Islamic State in Sri Lanka.
Hundreds of police officers scoured the capital Thursday looking for three men and three women who are believed to be connected to the bombers and possibly planning new attacks. Friday Prayer for Muslims and weekend services for Catholics were canceled out of fears of fresh violence.
In his comments Friday, Mr. Sirisena cast blame widely, saying his campaign against illegal drugs might have been a factor in the attacks because of the connections between drug gangs and terrorism. Thus far, no evidence has emerged of connections between the local extremist group believed to have carried out the bombings — National Thowheeth Jama’ath — and illegal drugs.
Mr. Sirisena also said that Zaharan Hashim, the head of National Thowheeth Jama’ath, is believed to have died while carrying out the bombing of the Shangri-La Hotel. Mr. Zaharan appeared in a video with seven masked men declaring their allegiance to the Islamic State, but the exact role of the extremist group, which once held large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria, is unclear.
The president said the intelligence failures may have been partly because of a crackdown on people in the state security apparatus accused of human rights violations during the country’s quarter-century civil war, which ended in 2009.
He cast himself as a protector of the security apparatus, and accused his opponents of undermining the country’s national defense.
He added that his defense of the armed forces was one of the reasons for his rift with the government, according to News First, a Sri Lankan news media outlet. It reported him as saying that he had felt compelled to send top intelligence officers overseas to protect them from harassment.