Scene of one of the Sri Lanka Easter bombings. Photo: AFP / Ishara S Kodikara

Sri Lanka has for the first time named a military officer to head the country’s main intelligence agency, which got much of the blame for the failure to prevent Islamist extremist bombings in April that killed 259 people.

The head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) was replaced by Brigadier Suresh Sallay, a former head of military intelligence, official sources said Monday.

It is the first time that a military officer has filled the position, and the appointment comes three weeks after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president promising better security.

Rajapaksa effectively ran the security forces when the military crushed Tamil separatist militants in 2009 to end Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war. At the time his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president.

A local jihad group was blamed for the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks against three luxury hotels and three churches on April 21.

A committee of parliament which investigated lapses leading to the devastating bombings found in October that much of the responsibility lay with the then president Maithripala Sirisena and with the head of the SIS, Senior Deputy Inspector General Nilantha Jayawardena.

Jayawardena, the one who has lost his job with Sallay’s appointment, had been warned on April 4 by a foreign intelligence agency – identified previously by officials as from India – of a possible attack.

The parliamentary report accused Sirisena of “actively undermining” national security and of failing to prevent the bombings.

A cross-party committee which probed alleged intelligence lapses related to the suicide bombings said Sirisena had not given proper guidance or support to the country’s security establishment and police.

It also found fault with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and deputy defense minister Ruwan Wijewardene, who it said had “failed in their duties.”

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe at the time of the attacks were on the outs politically, not communicating, with what proved to be fatal consequences.

The parliamentary inquiry said Sirisena – who was also the minister of defense – had excluded the police chief from crucial national security council meetings.

“This failure by the SIS has resulted in hundreds of deaths, many more injured and immeasurable devastation to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, and that must not be treated lightly,” the October parliamentary report said.

The then president  Sirisena blamed police chief Pujith Jayasundara and ministry of defense secretary Hemasiri Fernando for lapses, and initiated criminal prosecutions against them.

The October parliamentary probe acknowledged that the then police chief and the defense ministry secretary shouldered some of the blame, but added that the “greatest responsibility” lay with the SIS chief Jayawardena.

There are two other ongoing investigations into the attacks – an independent panel headed by an Appeal Court judge and a probe set up by the police.


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