Updated: January 11, 2021 11:22 AM GMT
The heavily damaged interior of St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo after the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019. (Photo: Facebook)
The United States has charged three Sri Lankans over the deaths of five Americans in the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.
The Justice Department announced that three Sri Lankan citizens have been charged with terrorism offenses including conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
The men were part of a group that called itself ISIS in Sri Lanka.
A group of nine suicide bombers affiliated with local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath targeted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 279 people including 37 foreign nationals and injuring 500.
"The three defendants are named in the criminal complaint, all of whom pledged allegiance to ISIS. Mohamed Anwar Mohamed Riskan, Mohamed Naufar and Ahamed Milhan Hayathu Mohamed were charged last month in a federal court in Los Angeles with conspiracy and providing and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization," said the statement on Jan. 8.
It said Naufar, the “second emir” for ISIS in Sri Lanka, who allegedly led the group’s propaganda efforts, recruited others to join ISIS and led a series of multi-day military-type training sessions.
Riskan allegedly helped manufacture the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used in the Easter attacks.
Hayathu Moahmed, who allegedly executed a police officer in order to obtain the officer’s firearm, shot a suspected informant and scouted a location for a separate terrorist attack, it is claimed.
"All three defendants are charged with conspiring to provide, providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Additionally, Naufar and Milhan are charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of military-type training from ISIS," said the report.
A Presidential Commission of Inquiry was appointed to investigate the Easter attack.
The previous government was blamed for its inability to prevent the attacks despite the prior intelligence made available about the impending attack.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo visited Easter Sunday victims who lost their loved ones on Jan. 3.
"I know that you personally cry from the bottom of your heart every day. I came here to pray for you that the Lord will wipe away your tears since human beings cannot do so," said the prelate.
Nick Hanna, US attorney for the Central District of California, said the case clearly demonstrates that the US will take decisive action to ensure terrorists face justice when they target Americans anywhere in the world.
“We charge these defendants with bearing their share of the responsibility for these deaths. According to these charges, the defendants were committed supporters of ISIS, recruited others to ISIS’s violent cause, purchased materials for and made IEDs, helped to prepare and trained others who participated in the attacks, and murdered in the name of this deadly foreign terrorist organization," said the report.
"They are in custody in Sri Lanka. We fully support the Sri Lankan investigation and prosecution of these terrorists and will continue to work with the authorities there to pursue our shared goal of holding these defendants accountable for their crimes.
"At the same time, these charges reflect that the US justice system remains a powerful tool to bring to bear against those who harm our citizens abroad. We will continue to pursue justice for the victims of these heinous attacks and for all American victims of terrorism."
Lawmaker Wijedasa Rajapaksa asked in a letter to the secretary of the president in December that the funds forwarded by the World Muslim Alliance be distributed among victims.
Media reported that US$5 million was allocated for the victims but they have not received any of the funds.
Antony Sebastian, an Easter attack victim, said everyone has a responsibility to make sure this does not happen again anywhere in the world.
"We are still waiting for the government to do us justice; it happens out of genuine interest, not out of a lot of commissions. It is important that at least the names of some of these people are pronounced in the US court," he said.
Nuwangi Fernando, another victim from Negombo, said no one has been punished so far.
"Politicians only sell the story on stages to protect their power. We sometimes feel that justice will never be done in our lifetime from our politicians since they are greedy for power," she said.