Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has ruled that former President Maithripala Sirisena and four other top officials failed to prevent Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 that killed nearly 270 people, ordering them to pay compensation.
The seven-judge bench on Thursday ruled that Sirisena was responsible for negligence to take measures to prevent the attacks despite solid intelligence warnings two weeks prior.
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The court ordered the former president to pay 100 million rupees ($273,300) from his personal funds to family members of victims who brought the civil case before the court. The police chief, two top intelligence officials and the secretary to the ministry of defence at the time were ordered to pay a total of 210 million rupees ($574,000).
“The key thing is that there was intelligence weeks ahead of those bomb attacks,” Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez reported from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo where the ruling took place.
Fernandez explained that the Easter bombings happened on April 21 but “as early as April 4, the intelligence chief Nilantha Jayawardena had received information that these attacks would likely take place”.
The six near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks targeted worshippers at Easter services at three churches and tourists eating breakfast at three top hotels.
Two local groups that had pledged allegiance to the ISIL (ISIS) group were accused of carrying out attacks, which also wounded more than 500 people.
A breakdown in communication caused by a rift between Sirisena and the then-prime minister was blamed for the failure of authorities to act on near-specific foreign intelligence received prior to the attacks, which also wounded about 500 people.
The court said Sirisena, who was also defence minister and commander in chief of the armed forces, had not called regular meetings of the national security council and had omitted key personnel from the meetings he held.
“All this is a stark reality that strikes this court as a serious omission on the part of the then-president,” the court said.
“This dismal failure on the part of former President Sirisena resulted in disastrous consequences for this country. Not only were lives lost and properties destroyed, but interracial tension and interethnic hatred began to raise their ugly heads, causing the very fabric of this nation to be broken,” the court said.
“The due care with which the minister of defense should have exercised his wide powers in the greater good of the country was totally nonexistent according to the evidence that has been placed before this court,” it said.
Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has regularly criticised the government’s investigation into the Easter Sunday bombings and petitioned the United Nations for an international probe as the authorities failed to identify the masterminds behind the coordinated attacks.
A presidential commission earlier recommended criminal procedures against Sirisena for alleged negligence, but it has not been followed up.
The government has prosecuted several people in connection with the attacks, but leaders of the country’s Catholic church have said they suspect a larger conspiracy and have demanded that the leaders be revealed.
In March, Pope Francis urged Sri Lankan authorities to reveal who was behind the attack.