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Sri Lankans seek arrest of ex-prez over Easter bombing remarks

Maithripala Sirisena triggers controversy by claiming he knows the masterminds of the 2019 terror attack
Former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

Former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 25, 2024 12:23 PM GMT
Updated: March 26, 2024 04:27 AM GMT

Catholic officials and parliamentarians have called for the arrest and interrogation of former Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena over his controversial statement regarding the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.

The call came after Sirisena told the media on March 22 that he was ready to testify in court to reveal confidential information about the masterminds behind the deadly terror attack on churches and hotels that left 269 dead, including foreigners, and hundreds injured.

Sirisena said he seeks protection and promises of confidentiality from the court as the public disclosure of the sensitive information could harm him and his family.

Those arrested and detained in the case were the persons he had named earlier, and he could reveal to the judiciary the real culprits who orchestrated the attacks, he said.

The next day Sirisena clarified further that he came to know about the real culprits just three weeks ago and he had decided to provide a close door testimony to the court considering the sensitivity of the issue.

"If the Court summoned me, I'll appear and testify under the confidential agreement. The reason for this arrangement is that I fear the safety of not only myself and my children but also other family members if I were to testify in an open court," Sirisena said.

The ex-president should be immediately arrested and questioned because “concealing criminal information is a crime,” said Oblate priest Father Rohan Silva, who recently filed a complaint over the Easter attack with the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC).

“He should be arrested immediately. If an ordinary person had made such a serious statement, they would have been arrested and interrogated by the police already,” said Silva, a member of the National Catholic Committee for Justice to Easter Sunday Attack Victims.

On behalf of the Sri Lankan Catholic Church, the priest obtained the report from the Malalgoda Committee, a state-appointed body that investigated the Easter Sunday bombings.

"We request the president and the minister of the police and the CID [criminal investigation department] to immediately arrest the former president and begin interrogation and take necessary legal action against him,” he added.

Catholic lawmaker Kawinda Jayawardena filed a complaint with the CID, accusing Sirisena of concealing vital information related to the attack for nearly five years.

He slammed Sirisena for failing to disclose the information despite appearing before the government commission many times.

There must be a “full-scale investigation” over his fresh claims, Jayawardena told journalists.

Former cabinet minister and current lawmaker Vijitha Herath also echoed similar sentiments.

The attack became a turning point in the island nation’s politics because of the state's failure, so the ex-president must be held responsible, he said.

“After not revealing anything about it for so long, he now claims to know who carried out the attack. It is a serious matter that he is concealing this incident, which caused such a tragedy, as the Commander-in-Chief,” he told the media on March 24.

Deshbandu Tennakoon, Inspector General of Police said that Sirisena made the remarks as the CID asked him to show up for a statement.

Nine suicide bombers allegedly linked with a local extremist outfit, National Thowheed Jamath, targeted three Churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, 2019.

Successive governments carried out investigations into the attack. Catholic Church rejected the state reports for failing to identify the masterminds behind the violence.

Catholic leaders including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo and human rights groups have accused the governments of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and current President Ranil Wickremesinghe of exploiting the tragedy for political gains.

They have also called for an impartial international probe into the bombings and justice for the victims.

Earlier, a court ordered former president Sirisena to pay 100 million rupees (US$329,790) as compensation for the victims.

He has so far paid 15 million rupees only and requested the court to allow him to pay the remainder amount by 2033.

Father Cyril Gamini, spokesman for Cardinal Ranjith told the UCA News that the legal team at the church is carefully studying the former president's claims.

"I believe he knew it before. His claim that he came to know just three weeks ago is an afterthought," Gamini said.

About 53 percent of Sri Lankans believe local political forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks, revealed a survey by Colombo-based non-profit Verité Research last October.

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