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Sri Lankan cardinal wants international Easter bombings probe

Head of island nation's Catholic Church makes demand following revelations by a UK-based broadcaster
The head of Sri Lanka's Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith speaks during a press conference in Colombo on Sept 6. Sri Lanka's Catholic Church demanded an international probe into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Colombo after a British documentary claimed they were orchestrated to tip the outcome of that year's election

The head of Sri Lanka's Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith speaks during a press conference in Colombo on Sept 6. Sri Lanka's Catholic Church demanded an international probe into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Colombo after a British documentary claimed they were orchestrated to tip the outcome of that year's election. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 07, 2023 09:52 AM GMT
Updated: September 07, 2023 10:29 AM GMT

Sri Lanka's Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has called for an international probe into the 2019 Easter bombings after a UK-based broadcaster on Sept. 5 claimed the country's worst-ever terror attack was an inside job by the government.

In a documentary by Channel 4, Azad Maulana, a former spokesman of a breakaway Tamil Tiger rebel group that helped the government win the country's bitter civil war in 2009, appeared to allege that top military intelligence figures met the bombers before the attacks on two Catholic churches and luxury hotels that killed 269 people and injured more than 500. Among those killed were 45 foreigners. 

Maulana claimed that the meeting took place in the eastern part of the country and that he was present when one of the bombers, Zahran Hashim, and the head of the State Intelligence Service, Major General Suresh Sallay, interacted.

"We have been asking for international investigations in light of the fact that whatever has been done has not produced a transparent and clear picture of what happened on that Easter Sunday,” Cardinal Ranjith, also archbishop of Colombo, said.

"Unless a transparent and sincere investigation is launched, we do not feel that truth and justice will be meted out to the innocent victims,” the 75-year-old cardinal said while addressing the media on Sept. 6.

Hours after the documentary aired, a UN Human Rights report released by the Office of the High Commissioner also renewed its call for an investigation into the Easter bombings.

Soon after assuming power as acting president following riots in July 2022, Ranil Wickremesinghe promised a fresh probe with the support of the British government, involving Scotland Yard, into the coordinated suicide bombings on Easter Sunday morning.

On Sept. 6, the government said it would set up a parliamentary panel to probe the allegations made by the documentary.

"We urge the president and the government to launch an investigation urgently," the cardinal said.

In the Channel 4 documentary — "Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings, a New Dispatches Investigation" — Maulana said he had arranged Sallay's meeting in 2018. 

Sallay was promoted as head of the State Intelligence Service after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president in 2019, promising to restore security after the terror attack.

Any officials named in the Channel 4 program should be removed from their high positions to ensure the inquiry's independence, Cardinal Ranjith said.

He also called for Sallay's immediate resignation.

The head of the Catholic Church in the island nation has been critical of the ongoing investigations and court cases, claiming that they were biased.

Cardinal Ranjith observed that three separate investigations, including a Parliament Oversight Committee probe, failed to look into all aspects of the allegations. 

“We want a comprehensive inquiry where all aspects that have not been investigated correctly are done," he said. 

When asked about the UK-based broadcaster’s shocking revelations, the cardinal said, “That's the revelation we have received from an independent person.” 

Ranjith also urged the Sri Lankan government to look into allegations made by the whistleblower over extrajudicial killings.

Referring to the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the now-defunct Sunday Leader in 2008, he said it "is something we cannot accept and it must be investigated.” 

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