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Police to face criminal probe on ‘lapses’ over Easter blast

June 20, 2019
FILE - In this April 21, 2019 file photo, Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's attorney general on Thursday, June 20 directed the acting police chief to initiate a criminal investigation against nine senior police officers for their "lapses" to prevent and minimize the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)
FILE - In this April 21, 2019 file photo, Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's attorney general on Thursday, June 20 directed the acting police chief to initiate a criminal investigation against nine senior police officers for their "lapses" to prevent and minimize the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s attorney general on Thursday directed the acting police chief to initiate a criminal investigation against nine senior police officers for their “lapses” to prevent and minimize the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people.

In a letter sent to acting police chief Chandana Wickremeratne on Thursday, Attorney General Dappula de Livera said a special board of inquiry appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena recommended taking “suitable criminal and disciplinary action” against the officers who were serving in the areas where the attacks took place.

Sirisena appointed the board of inquiry amid criticism that he could have prevented the attack. After several weeks of investigations, the board submitted the report to Sirisena, who had sent it to Livera for his consideration.

“You are hereby directed to initiate criminal investigation with regard to the lapses of the above officers to prevent and minimize the above attack,” Livera wrote to Wickremaratne. He asked him to share the board’s recommendations with the National Police Commission for it to take “suitable disciplinary action” against the nine officers.

More than 250 people were killed in six suicide attacks on April 21 when seven Sri Lankans who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group blew themselves up at three churches and three luxury hotels. Some 500 people were wounded.

Sri Lankan leaders and the security establishment are under fire for not acting on near-specific information ahead of the blasts on possible attacks on churches.

After the killings, then-Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned while Sirisena suspended Police Chief Pujith Jayasundara and appointed Wickremeratne as acting police chief.

The attorney general’s directive comes days after Sirisena objected to a parliamentary inquiry into intelligence failures. Sirisena has promised to protect officers who refuse to attend the committee hearings. His objection came after some officials hinted at shortcomings by Sirisena, who is also the defense minister and minister of police.

Suspended police chief Jayasundara told the commission that Sirisena asked him to resign to take responsibility for the blasts and vowed he would have his name cleared later.

Jayasundara also said Sirisena had asked him not to attend the National Security Council meetings since last October, when Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a power struggle that triggered a seven-week political crisis. Wickremesinghe was subsequently reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Top intelligence officer Sisira Mendis, testifying before the commission, said there were intelligence reports on a possible attack as early as April 9 but the National Security Council headed by the president did not meet until after the blasts. Mendis resigned a few days after testifying; it is unclear if he was asked to step down.

The parliament committee is continuing proceedings, which includes questioning of police officers despite Sirisena’s objection.

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