Updated: February 25, 2021 10:27 AM GMT
Security personnel stand guard at St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP
Catholics in Sri Lanka are concerned that a presidential commission has failed to identify the real culprits behind the Easter 2019 terror attacks.
The commission’s report was handed to the parliament speaker on Feb. 23 and recommends the attorney general to consider instituting criminal proceedings against former president Maithripala Sirisena and his intelligence chiefs for failing to stop the bombings.
A group of nine suicide bombers affiliated to local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) targeted three Christian churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 306 people including 37 foreign nationals on Easter morning nearly two years ago.
Anthony R. Aruna, a Catholic Sunday school teacher from Negombo, said the whole country was waiting to find out who was behind the attacks but the report had not revealed the real culprits.
Aruna, who fights for the rights of victims, said the main responsibility of the commission was to expose those behind the atrocity.
Islamist preacher Zahran Hashim, who founded the NTJ, is suspected of having been the bombers' leader. He died in the Shangri-La hotel blast in Colombo.
"It is a puzzle to say that the leader of an extremist organization that is leading such an attack has committed suicide. If Zahran is not the leader, then its leader, the person who directed the attack, is still alive and that organization still exists. It is a dilemma," said Aruna.
A Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Colombo said no charges have been filed against the real people who supported the Easter Sunday attacks.
"The commission has not found definite information about the roots but Catholics are still hoping that the real culprits will be revealed. Was this report done for political gain?" asked the priest, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Bishop Winston Fernando, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, said he hopes that justice will be done to the victims.
“Since most Catholics were affected by this incident, there should be an opportunity to see the commission report,” he said. “The final step is to submit the report to the courts and thereby achieve justice.”
Ven. Narampanawe Ananda Thera said the real masterminds behind the bombings have not been identified by the commission’s report.
“The commission has not achieved its intended objectives and has blamed others instead of identifying the real culprits behind the attack,” said the Buddhist monk.
Relatives of victims in Negombo held a protest on Feb. 20 against a new cabinet committee appointed to study the commission’s report. They demanded publication of the report and to bring the culprits before the law.
Two days after the attacks, the Islamic State claimed responsibility, but the commission said it had not found a direct link between the terror group and local suicide bombers.
Indian authorities provided Sri Lankan intelligence services with information about a possible attack. The commission found that former defense secretary Hemasiri Fernando, former national intelligence chief Sisira Mendis, former inspector general of police Pujith Jayasundara and director of state intelligence Nilantha Jayawardena had failed to carry out their duties efficiently.
It recommended considering criminal proceedings against them but recommended that no action be taken against former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
A copy of the report handed to the parliament speaker has also been given to the parliament library for the information of all lawmakers.
The commission heard evidence from 440 witnesses including church leaders.
It made a recommendation to ban the Bodu Bala Sena organization, a radical Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist group that has been blamed for a rise in attacks against Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims and Christians.
The commission recommended compensation payments of 2 million rupees (US$10,300) to families of those killed in the Easter Sunday attacks and 500,000 rupees for the injured.
The five-member commission was appointed by former president Maithripala Sirisena on Sept. 21, 2019, to investigate the attacks.
The delay in making the report public drew criticism from Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo and opposition lawmakers.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a six-member cabinet committee on Feb. 19 to study the final commission report in depth.
Cardinal Ranjith has questioned whether a cabinet committee had been appointed to cover up certain matters mentioned in the report.
Catholic layman Aruna said the report does not mention anything except what people already know.
"People have a right to know the truth. The report is incomplete and it was given due to pressure from Cardinal Ranjith and opposition political parties," he said.