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Friday May 7th, 2021
Terrorism

Those responsible for Sri Lanka’s Easter bombings now misdirecting public: PM

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing parliament – File photo

ECONOMYNEXT – Parties responsible for Sri Lanka’s 2019 Easter bombings are making false claims aimed at influencing and diverting attention away from the investigations, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said.

Rajapaksa told parliament today that evidence revealed before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that probed the attack, the commission’s final report and other documents have been forwarded to the Attorney General to pursue legal action as necessary.

The premier’s remarks follow an allegation levelled by opposition lawmaker Harin Fernando in parliament yesterday of a damning omission in the investigations. The MP claimed that an intelligence officer found to have been in contact with the Easter bombers was whisked away by military intelligence before he could be questioned by the CID.

Premier Rajapaksa said the government will intervene in the investigations.

“Though we do not intend to intervene in the judicial process, the government is ready to provide any support needed to make the judicial process a success,” he said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has also extended his support and provided all facilities to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and other authorities to conduct investigations independently, he added.

“We are confident that these departments will initiate legal proceedings after the investigations are completed,” the prime minister said.

In what appeared to be a swipe at the previous government, Rajapaksa said innocent people had to pay the price for the Yahapalana administration’s criminal negligence and its mixing of politics with national security.

The Sirsisena-Wickremesinghe government was accused of failing to prevent the series of bombings that killed 269 people and injured over 500 despite having received intelligence of a pending attack well in advance.

The PCoI report has emphasised punitive action against then President Maithripala Sirisena and other officials, though opposition lawmakers – most of whom were members of the previous government – allege that official investigations have failed to expose the masterminds of the attack.

“We will take measures to bring everyone responsible for this brutal attack before the law,” said the prime minister.

Today marks two years since the bombings that targeted Catholic and Christian churches and two hotels, perpetrated by a group of Islamic extremists allegedly linked to or at least  influenced by the Islamic State. At a commemoration event held this morning, Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said that the Catholic community will continue to agitate for justice for the victims. Ranjith had previously said the attack was politically motivated and had little to do with extremism, but later took back his statement claiming his words were misunderstood.

Related: Political posturing impeded transparent Easter bombings probe: Cardinal

Police have arrested 676 people within Sri Lanka’s borders so far related to the Easter Sunday attacks, out of which 200 are imprisoned, 66 are currently detained and being questioned and 408 have been released on bail, Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Rtd) Sarath Weerasekara told parliament last month.

Since the current government came into power, Weerasekara said, 99 persons who were directly or indirectly involved in the attack were arrested within the country, with 35 Sri Lankans living abroad also detained.

The minister further said that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) was able to extradite 50 individuals from overseas by coordinating with five foreign intelligence services who had nurtured extremism in those countries and provided funds for such activity in Sri Lanka.

In a press conference held earlier this month, Weerasekara told reporters that Maulavi (Islamic preacher) Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Naufer and one Rasheed Hajjul Akbar, both of whom are in custody, can be considered the masterminds of the deadly attack.

In his speech in parliament yesterday, however, MP Fernando claimed that Maulavi Naufer was never brought before the PCoI, further alleging that a single individual that represents the president is running the country’s intelligence apparatus. (Colombo/Apr21/2021)

Related: Sri Lanka opposition MP alleges damning omission in Easter bombings probe

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