Easter attacks mastermind Zahran Hashim campaigned for Maithripala Sirisena ahead of the January 2015 presidential elections, according to former Governor of the Eastern Province, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah.
Testifying before a parliamentary committee probing Easter bombings, the politician, who is based in Hashim’s hometown Kattankudy in the Eastern Province, said on Thursday: “I campaigned for Mahinda Rajapaksa at that time, while Zahran supported and actively campaigned for Sirisena.”
Mr. Hizbullah resigned from office earlier this month, in the wake of a Buddhist monk “fasting unto death” demanding the resignation of three Muslim politicians, including him, over alleged links with Easter suspects.
Formerly a Member of Parliament, who has also served as Deputy Minister, Mr. Hisbullah was appointed as the Governor of the Eastern Province in January 2019 by President Sirisena.
To a question from member of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and Minister Ravi Karunanayake on if he had met Hashim, Mr. Hizbullah said he had, “as many other politicians did”. Hashim had at least 2,000 followers in Kattankudy and politicians saw the need to engage him around general elections in 2015, he added.
“Zahran Hashim is a terrorist now, but until 2017, he was considered a religious leader, who was drawing many Muslim youth with his sharp debates on religion. Sometime later, he seems to have come in contact with IS [Islamic State] or some other group,” Mr. Hizbullah told the panel. While he increasingly became a controversial figure challenging those practising Islam differently, police continued giving him loud speaker permits to hold public meetings, he said.
To PSC member Nalinda Jayatissa’s query on whether Mr. Hizbullah complained about Zahran Hashim’s activities to security officials, as many other Muslim political and religious leaders had, the former Governor said, he was not aware of his “terrorist” activities and had not made any complaint.
Further, the panel probed the ex-Governor on an NGO he runs and the Batticaloa Campus, a university he built near Kattankudy. To a question on why his supporters had put up Arabic sign boards in Kattankudy, he said: “It is not illegal, there is no law prohibiting Arabic sign boards. They were put up to draw tourists from Arab countries.”
The fifth sitting of the PSC also included a civil servant attached to the Ministry of Public Administration, which had issued a controversial circular following the Easter attacks, saying only a sari or the osari, the Kandyan-style drape, were permitted attires for women entering government offices.
PSC sessions are continuing in the wake of President Sirisena’s attempts to scrap the probe, citing a clash with court proceedings and a potential threat to national security when officials testify before the media.
It is the first time in Sri Lanka’s history that media has been given access to a parliamentary committee’s sittings, according to its members. The Speaker and the PSC have maintained that the panel’s probe is in the realm of the legislature, and the executive must not interfere in its matters.