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With black flags, Sri Lanka Christians protest bombing probe

August 21, 2021 GMT
A policeman stands guard as black flags are seen in front of St. Anthoney's Church, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Sri Lankan Catholics hoisted black flags in churches and at homes on Saturday protesting against what they call government’s inaction to find  the true conspirators in the Easter Sunday blasts of 2019 which killed 269 people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
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A policeman stands guard as black flags are seen in front of St. Anthoney's Church, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Sri Lankan Catholics hoisted black flags in churches and at homes on Saturday protesting against what they call government’s inaction to find the true conspirators in the Easter Sunday blasts of 2019 which killed 269 people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
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A policeman stands guard as black flags are seen in front of St. Anthoney's Church, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Sri Lankan Catholics hoisted black flags in churches and at homes on Saturday protesting against what they call government’s inaction to find the true conspirators in the Easter Sunday blasts of 2019 which killed 269 people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Christian community hoisted black flags at churches and homes on Saturday to express anger over the government’s investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attacks, which killed 269 people.

Twenty-five people were charged last week in connection with the bombings. But the country’s Catholic Church says these could be “smaller fish,” and accuses the government of still not taking steps to identify the true conspirators. The head of the archdiocese of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, has raised questions over allegations that state intelligence personnel knew and met with the attackers.

Two local Muslim groups that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group were blamed for the six near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks, which hit three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, 2019. It is not known if the groups had actual links to the Islamic State.

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Under cloudy skies, a row of large black flags billowed in the wind Saturday in front of St. Anthony’s Church, which was targeted in the 2019 attacks. Behind a concrete barrier, religious statues overlooked armed police and signs that read: “Hiding the truth is a grand political conspiracy.”

In some areas, Muslim residents hoisted black flags in a show of solidarity.

Church bells tolled at 8:45 a.m., the time the first blast occurred. Prayer services were held inside St. Anthony’s, but with empty pews because of a 10-day coronavirus lockdown that began late Friday.

Still, a small group carried out a silent protest at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a predominantly Catholic area north of Colombo where 115 people were killed.

“The government has swept the whole thing under the carpet,” said Manilal Ranasinghe, a resident of St. Mary’s Parish in Dehiwala, a Colombo suburb. “The former president has to be held responsible.”

Friction and a communication breakdown between then-President Maithripala Sirisena and then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were blamed for the government’s failure to act on near-specific foreign intelligence warnings before the attacks.

About 7% of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people are Christian, and most are Roman Catholic, according to Mathew Schmalz, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross and an expert on Christianity in South Asia.