Sri Lanka blasts: Sirisena denies reports on Muslims fleeing parts of country, claims request for 'face veil' ban came from community leaders

President Maithripala Sirisena "venehemently denied" reports claiming that hundreds of Muslim refugees fled Negombo and other parts of the country in the aftermath of the Easter blasts in Sri Lanka.

Speaking to CNN-News18's Pradeep Pillai in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, the Sri Lankan president said, "It is an utterly false report which has been made. There is great co-operation between the Christian community and the Muslim community. The conduct of the Maulvis and the clergys is a good example for this. Therefore I deny that statement."

Sirisena also claimed support of the Muslim community on the recent ban on "any face garment which hinders identification", saying that the request for the "face veil" ban had come from the Muslim community itself.

"This request for ban on face covers came from the Muslim leaders and the Muslim clergy. And such an example has been set in many powerful nations of the world. For example, in European countries, after terror attacks, similar measures were taken to ban the burqa. Clearly, the Muslim community in those countries were not against it, except for a limited segment of the extreme elements," the Sri Lankan president said.

 Sri Lanka blasts: Sirisena denies reports on Muslims fleeing parts of country, claims request for face veil ban came from community leaders

File image of Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena. Reuters

"It is because of the requests from the Muslim clergy and Muslim leaders that this ban was affected under the status of Emergency law. Once the Emergency law is lifted from the country, if the Muslim community feels it is necessary (to continue with the ban), we can discuss about it further," he added.

At least 253 people were killed in the coordinated series of blasts targeting churches and hotels on 21 April in Sri Lanka. Two days after the incident, Sri Lanka's state defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene had said that an initial probe revealed that the attack was in "retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch".

Sirisena told CNN-News18 that though the Sri Lankan intelligence services had prior information about the attacks, he wasn't made aware of it.

"Had I been informed of the possible attack, I would have taken necessary action. Very clearly, some officers in our intelligence services have neglected their duty. Already, action have been taken against those who have been irresponsible. And in future, I will be taking necessary disciplinary action against them as well," he said.

The Sri Lankan president also said that a special investigation committee that was setup to probe the attacks is supposed to submit its complete report in two weeks' time.

"Once their complete report reaches me, I will be able to know who is responsible for these irresponsible action. We understand that large number of lives were lost because of their action. Therefore, with consultation of the Attorney General, I will be taking necessary action once the report reaches me," he said.

Sirisena said he was "highly appreciative of the support" being rendered by India after the attacks. "Within a few hours of the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi contacted me over the telephone. At that time, I was in Singapore. Modi expressed his heartfelt condolences and pledged his full support to eliminate this terrorist threat in our country. Already, expert knowledge is provided from the side of India to our officers to carry out our investigations and other raids and operations which are currently underway. Therefore, we are highly appreciative of the support that is being rendered by India at this point," he said.

On former Sri Lanka president Mahinda Rajapaksa's comments on lack of action against local jihadist group National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ), which was allegedly behind the attacks, Sirisena said, "It is unfortunate if such a statement has been made. We have to understand that, at one point, people rejected him as a leader and defeated him at an election. And we have to understand that the route, the initial start of this organisation was 15 years ago during his regime. The prime minister and I share a very cordial relationship and in terms of the responsibility of the government, we are working together in a very cordial and friendly manner and instructing our security forces to do what is needed.

"Therefore as a government, in terms of our responsibility, we are not stepping back, we are not weak. We are doing what needs to be done, as a result of which, we have been able to show results within a very short period of time. You have to understand that the fight with LTTE and fight Islamic State, it's not the same, it is very different. Those who know the facts should understand this."

The Sri Lankan president also asserted that he won't allow national security to become an issue for parties to fight on in any of the upcoming elections. "I am confident that I will be able to eliminate this threat of terrorism before that. There might be other reasons that people want to fight over for the elections, but this would not be it," he said.

Updated Date: May 01, 2019 21:07:16 IST