Sri Lanka archbishop criticises gov’t over Easter attacks probe

On the second anniversary of the Easter attacks, the head of Sri Lanka’s Catholic church says he was ‘deeply saddened’ by the lack of progress in the investigation.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, center, looks at a survivor of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks as he arrives to conduct a service at St. Anthony's Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, April 21, 2021 [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

The head of Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday accused the government of stalling investigations into Easter Sunday bombings two years ago that killed 279 people.

Nearly 200 people were arrested within days of the attacks on hotels and churches, but no one has yet been charged.

Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who led commemorations on the second anniversary Wednesday, said he was “deeply saddened” by the lack of progress in the investigation.

“We have to stress that what is happening at the moment is an attitude of ‘no care’ where all factors are not properly investigated,” the cardinal said at a commemorative service in Colombo.

Catholic priests and nuns march while holding images of the victims of April 21’s Easter Sunday bomb attack in 2019, next to St. Sebastian’s Church, one of the attacked churches, during the second anniversary, in Katuwapitiya, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2021 [Dinuka Liyanawatte/REUTERS]

Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez, reporting from Negombo, Sri Lanka, said Ranjith accused the government of political posturing and the need to protect alliances had hindered the probe.

“He went as far a few days ago as saying that the bombings had nothing to do with religious extremism, but rather were about politics and people who wanted to ensure essentially grabbing power,” she added.

The cardinal has previously called for former president Maithripala Sirisena to be prosecuted for failing to prevent the attacks despite advance warnings.

An investigation ordered by Sirisena soon after the bombings found that he and his intelligence officials had precise information from India about the attack 17 days earlier, but failed to act.

Sirisena, who did not offer himself for re-election in November 2019 polls, is currently a legislator with the party of his successor Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Although none of the 200 in custody have been indicted, 16 Muslim men among them were charged on Tuesday in connection with desecrating Buddhist statues in December 2018.

The authorities have said that the destruction of the statues in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka was the forerunner to the Easter Sunday attacks four months later.

Anniversary service

Wednesday’s multi-faith remembrance service was held at the St. Anthony’s Church where 56 people died in the attacks, which came 10 years after the end of Sri Lanka’s 37-year Tamil separatist war.

Cardinal Ranjith appealed to the country’s Muslims on Wednesday to join Catholics in determining the truth behind the Easter bombings.

Two local groups that had pledged allegiance to the ISIS [ISIL] group have been blamed for the attacks.

A family member kisses the grave of one victim of April 21’s Easter Sunday bomb attack in 2019, next to St. Sebastian’s Church, one of the attacked churches, during the second anniversary [Dinuka Liyanawatte/REUTERS]

Islamic cleric Hassan Moulana, who also spoke at the service, said Muslims around the world condemn the attacks and that Islam offers no justification for the crime.

He said the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has disowned the attackers and has not allowed their bodies to be buried in its cemeteries to show their acts are not part of Islam.

Last week Sri Lanka banned 11 organisations, including the ISIL (ISIS) group and al-Qaeda.

Anyone linked to the groups – the other nine of which are local religious and social organisations – faces up to 20 years in jail, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a gazette notification.

Muslims, who make up nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people, have faced increased attacks from majority Sinhala Buddhist hardliners following the end of a civil war between Tamil separatists and government forces in 2009.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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