By Rathindra Kuruwita
The Nuwara-Eliya Police, on two separate occasions, had attempted to silence a person who had given them a tip-off about a Jihadist training camp conducted by the National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) in May 2018, it was yesterday revealed at the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.
NTJ leader Zahran Hashim and founder of NTJ Nawfer Moulavi had been present at the camp, the PCoI was told.
D. T. Illesinghe, a resident of Shanthipura, Nuwara-Eliya told the PCoI that a group of people had arrived at Thakhila Holiday Inn, adjacent to his house, on May 05, 2018, in four white vans. Unlike other tourists the group had never left the place and even at night they had kept the lights off, save one.
“I felt suspicious. The hotel is owned by a businessman who operates shops in the Manning Market. The keeper is a guy named Ranga. I spoke to Ranga’s wife and she too said that the group was suspicious. Since I speak Tamil she asked me to check up on them. I entered the Inn at around 6.30 am under the pretext of collecting flowers. When I was going around the house, I overheard a conversation. One person said “It’s not safe to keep the money and weapons here. We should take them back to Kattankudy.” In response a guy named Abdullah said it was not safe to transport weapons.”
Illesinghe said that upon overhearing the conversation, he had called 119 but there had been no answer. Then he called Sergeant Sunil attached to the Nuwara-Eliya Police Station. Since he too didn’t pick up, he called the OIC of the station.
Illesinghe said: “He too didn’t pick up. It was around 8 am. I then decided to call then IGP Pujith Jayasundara. I took down IGP’s contact number shown during a television programme telecast earlier. The IGP picked up and when I told him that there were suspicious people, he gave me SP Mahinda Dissanayake’s number. I called the SP and he said he would inform Nuwara Eliya Police.”
The witness said that the Nuwara Eliya police had called him 30 minutes later and claimed they would come soon. But since the police didn’t turn up by 12.30 pm, Illesinghe called Dissanayake again. “He told me that Nuwara Eliya police would come soon. Then at around 4.30 pm a single police car came. A few minutes before that three vans left the holiday inn. I saw one policeman getting out and going in. I was doing some work and I went to meet the police. But they were leaving by the time I reached my gate. The police were there for only about 15 minutes.”
However after the Easter Sunday attacks, the Nuwara Eliya policemen had come to see him, Illesinghe said. A few days after the attacks, SI Indrajith and two others, carrying weapons, had come to see him. Indrajith had told Illesinghe that his tip-off was right and that the police was too slow.
Illesinghe said: “SI Indrajith said when he went into the Inn, there was Rs million rupees on the floor and a parcel of ganja. I asked him why he had not arrest them for having ganja. SI Indrajith said I shouldn’t bring the matter up because ISIS would come and kill me. I said ISIS won’t, but the Police might.”
The witness said that investigators from various agencies had visited him. Later, he was called for a meeting with various police officers. During the meeting Sergeant Sunil attached to the Nuwara Eliya Police Station asked Illesinghe to be careful and that he should not talk about this to others.
Earlier an Officer attached to PCoI police unit, SI Sanjeewa Sampath of CID told the PCoI that NTJ members, including its leader Zahran Hashim, who had taken part in a Jihadist training camp in Nuwara Eliya, on May 8, 2018, had escaped due to the inaction of the Nuwara Eliya Police.
SI Sampath also said that during their inquiry they had found that Zahran had conducted preaching related to Islamic extremism and his associates had trained the cadres to handle weapons and manufacture bombs.