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Lankan Church ups bid for independent probe into bombings

Role of intelligence service in 2019 Easter attacks, subsequent investigations need addressing, it says
Sri Lankans demonstrate on the fourth anniversary of the Easter Sunday bombings outside St. Anthony's Shrine, one of the places hit in the bombings, in Colombo on April 21. Eight bombs went off in luxury hotels and three historical churches across Colombo in 2019.

Sri Lankans demonstrate on the fourth anniversary of the Easter Sunday bombings outside St. Anthony's Shrine, one of the places hit in the bombings, in Colombo on April 21. Eight bombs went off in luxury hotels and three historical churches across Colombo in 2019(Photo: AFP)

Published: October 17, 2023 06:12 AM GMT
Updated: October 17, 2023 07:09 AM GMT

With the trial of 24 Easter Sunday bombing suspects to resume in Sri Lanka on Oct 18, the Church has reiterated its call for an independent international probe into the worst-ever terror attack in the island nation.

Such a probe would, among other things, scrutinize the role of military intelligence in the 2019 attacks, senior churchmen said.

In an Oct. 9 letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Church said that unless a process is implemented to effect a just and transparent investigation, justice and fairness for innocent victims of the atrocity cannot be ensured.

"We sincerely hope that, if you have a genuine and sincere desire to find the truth and ensure justice to the innocent victims, both local and foreign who died in these attacks and the hundreds who suffered injuries and were rendered permanently destitute, you and this government would take steps to implement our requests forthwith," said a letter Church leaders.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and some 30 leaders of Catholic and Protestant churches, including six bishops.

Last week, the High Court in the capital Colombo began the trial of 24 people against whom 23,270 indictments were filed over the deadly suicide attacks by an Islamic fundamentalist group on Easter Sunday in 2019. The coordinated attacks killed 279 people, including 45 foreigners, and left more than 500 injured.

Although 25 suspects were originally indicted, one died in custody. The trial, which was adjourned on Oct. 13 is expected to resume on Oct. 18

In the 13-page long letter, the National Catholic Committee for Justice to Easter Sunday Attack Victims stressed the need for further scrutinization of military intelligence's role in the attacks and the alleged links it had with the bombers.

Also in need of scrutiny were critical issues not pursued by investigation agencies in the wake of a documentary by UK-based broadcaster Channel 4 aired last month linking senior government officials with the bombers, the committee said.

It also pointed out how previous governments deliberately derailed investigations into the attacks with the transfer of some 20 senior police officers attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the country's premier investigative agency, soon after former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office.

The Church also expressed its disappointment with the government saying that even though the current one came to power after a massive people's uprising last year, it did not make any attempt to conduct an impartial and transparent investigation into the attacks.

"If there was an honest desire to render justice to the victims of this violence, you would have rectified these unjust transfers of CID officers and re-started the investigations from where they were stopped,” the letter said.

It accused the government of hiding the truth behind a "great conspiracy" and protecting the criminals "by continuing to prevent such investigations."

Among five proposals put forward by the Church is to reinstate the transferred CID officers and involve them with the investigations under an international mechanism that would guide and direct the probe.

The Church also demanded the immediate suspension of senior police officials including the then chief of the State Intelligence Service Senior and Deputy Inspector General of Police, Nilantha Jayawardena, who received prior warnings from Indian intelligence and others until a thorough probe is concluded.

Jayawardena is now the Officer in Charge of Administration in the Police Department.

The Church also rejected a government committee led by a retired Supreme Court Justice set up to look into the attacks along with a parliament oversight committee in the aftermath of the Channel 4 documentary last month.

Two presidential commissions of inquiry and a parliament oversight committee were appointed soon after the attacks and made several recommendations but many are yet to be implemented, the Church letter stressed.

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