By Chandani Kirinde
Former Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen told a Parliamentary Committee yesterday that the allegations being made by Opposition MPs linking him to the terrorist group that carried out the Easter day attacks have to do with his refusal to support the October political coup.
“The attacks against me are politically motivated because I refused to support the illegal government that was set up in October. Two of the MPs, S.B. Dissanayake and Wimal Weerawansa, who are making serious allegations against me, are the ones who pleaded with me to join the Government they set up last October with the other five MPs from my party, but I refused,” Bathiudeen told the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Day attacks.
The former Minister said that the allegations made against him by these lawmakers prompted him to lodge a complaint against them with the police. “I have asked them to complain to the police if they have any proof linking me to any terrorist group so they can investigate but they haven’t done that. I have lodged a complaint against them and the police have asked me to come to record a statement in relation to that,” Bathiudeen said.
The Minister said that he has never supported nor will he ever support terrorists and denied that he had ever met Zahran, the mastermind behind the Easter Day attacks, or had any knowledge of the group prior to the incidents.
“I am someone who has suffered due to terrorism, likely more than any of the other 224 MPs. We were chased out of our homes in Mannar by the LTTE and had to live in refugee camps in Puttalam for many years. I know the pain that terrorism causes. Our country has suffered enough and we must all work together so that there will be no room for terrorism in the country again,” he said.
Bathiudeen was questioned by the members of the Committee about his alleged links to Yusuf Mohamed Ibrahim, the father of two of the suicide bombers.
The former Minister said he had met Ibrahim in his official capacity as Minister. “Ibrahim was the President of the Colombo Traders Association and has attended some meetings at the Ministry. I have no personal relationship with him,” Bathiudeen said.
Asked about allegations he had called Army Commander Lt. General Mahesh Senanayake to inquire about the arrest of a terror suspect, Bathiudeen said he called the Commander on 25 April after the father of a suspect called him in desperation seeking information about the whereabouts of his son.
“His son had been taken away by an unidentified group from the house. He had gone to the police in the area to inquire about whether his son was in their custody. But the Officer in Charge had told him that his son was not with the police. The father had lodged a complaint with police regarding that. I can show you that complaint (shows a document to the PSC). The father wanted me to check whether his son was alive. He did not want to release the son if the latter was in custody. He said the son should be punished if he had been involved with any kind of terror act. He only wanted to know whether his son was alive. So, I called Army Commander and asked whether a person in that name was in the custody of the Army. He told me that he would check and let me know. I called once more a while later but he said he did not have the information yet. Then I called him a third time a day later and he confirmed that the person was in Army custody and would hand him over to the TID. I did not call Army Commander again on the same matter,” the witness said.
Bathiudeen said he had called the Army Commander another day to convey a request from a Muslim religious leader in the Negombo area for additional security soon after the Easter Sunday attacks. “I also called President Maithripala Sirisena and State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardena about this request,” he said.
He told the Committee that that all those are found guilty of links to terrorism must be given the maximum punishment. “These terrorists had Islamic names but we don’t consider them Muslims. Islam doesn’t preach or advocate bombing other people. We also have to uphold the Constitution of the country which is why I did not support the October coup.”
The PSC yesterday comprised Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri (Chairman), Ministers Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Ravi Karunanayake, MPs Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Rauff Hakeem and Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa.