Sri Lanka Catholic Church faults government’s bombing probe
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church said Friday that 25 people charged this week in connection with the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed 269 people could be “smaller fish,” and accused the government of still not taking steps to identify the true conspirators.
The head of the archdiocese of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, said the president’s office has not answered questions he raised in a letter last month over allegations that officials in state intelligence agencies knew and met with the attackers.
He asked Catholics to raise black flags at their homes and on their vehicles as a mark of protest.
On Tuesday, the attorney general filed 23,270 charges against 25 people under the country’s anti-terrorism law. The charges include conspiring to murder, aiding and abetting, collecting arms and ammunition and attempted murder.
The attorney general also asked the chief justice to appoint a special three-member high court bench to hear the cases speedily.
“We don’t want to say the 25 persons are innocent, but we have a question whether this is an attempt to net the smaller fish and let the sharks go,” Ranjith said.
Two local Muslim groups that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group were blamed for six near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks on April, 21, 2019. It is not known if the groups had actual links to the Islamic State.
The blasts targeted three churches and three hotels. Another attacker who entered a fourth hotel left without setting off his bomb and later committed suicide by detonating his explosives at a different location.
Church goers and many foreign tourists having breakfast in their hotels were among those killed. About 500 people were wounded.
Ranjith said he had raised questions over allegations that a state intelligence officer met with the man who did not carry out his planned attack, based on statements made at a special presidential inquiry commission.
The commission was also told that another intelligence officer had asked an intermediary to convince the IS to claim responsibility for the attacks.
Ranjith said it raised questions whether it was a diversionary tactic to protect the real culprits.
The IS subsequently claimed responsibility after a video was released showing the attackers taking their oaths in the Arabic language.
In his letter last month, Ranjith also cited speeches in Parliament saying that military intelligence had a suspect released by police.
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.
It led to the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa later in 2019 on a platform of national security.
Ranjith in his letter also expressed displeasure that Sirisena and several police officers had not been charged with negligence and Wickremesinghe had not been investigated for an alleged soft approach toward Islamic militancy.