Ex-Sri Lanka leader denies 2019 bombings were staged to help him win polls

Gotabaya Rajapaksa rejects British documentary that said the Easter Sunday attacks were carried out to influence presidential election.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivers a speech
Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the Channel 4 documentary was 'mostly an anti-Rajapaksa tirade' [File: Andy Buchanan/Reuters]

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has denied allegations in a British television programme that ISIL (ISIS)-inspired fighters were used to carry out suicide bombings in 2019 to create insecurity in the country and help him win an election later that year.

“To claim that a group of Islamic extremists launched suicide attacks in order to make me president is absurd,” Rajapaksa said in a public statement on Thursday, his first since being removed from power in July last year.

He said the documentary on Britain’s Channel 4 television was “mostly an anti-Rajapaksa tirade”.

In the programme broadcast on Tuesday, Channel 4 interviewed a man who said he arranged a meeting between a local ISIL-inspired group, National Thowheed Jamath, and a top state intelligence official loyal to Rajapaksa to formulate a plot to create instability and enable Rajapaksa to win the presidential election.

Rajapaksa, a former top defence official, was seen as a strong law-and-order candidate. His older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was defeated in the 2015 elections after 10 years as president.

National Thowheed Jamath is accused of carrying out six suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019 which targeted churches and tourist hotels and killed 269 people.

The attacks revived memories of frequent suicide bombings during the country’s quarter-century-long civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels which ended 10 years earlier in 2009.

Fears over national security enabled Rajapaksa to sweep to power. He was forced to resign in July 2022 during mass protests over an economic crisis.

Azad Maulana, the man interviewed by Channel 4, was a spokesman for a Tamil Tiger breakaway armed group that later backed the state and helped the Sinhalese-dominated government defeat the Tamil rebels and win the civil war.

Maulana said he arranged a meeting in 2018 between ISIL-inspired fighters and a top intelligence officer at the behest of his boss at the time, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, the leader of the rebel breakaway group who later became a politician.

Maulana said Chandrakanthan met Zainee Hashim, brother of the leader of National Thowheed Jamath, in prison while Chandrakanthan was jailed on murder allegations and determined that the group could be useful in creating instability.

He said Chandrakanthan arranged for Maulana to help obtain Hashim’s release by providing him with legal and financial assistance.

Once released, Hashim arranged a meeting between National Thowheed Jamath and a top intelligence official close to Rajapaksa, Maulana said.

Maulana told Channel 4 that he did not participate in the meeting, but the intelligence officer told him later that creating insecurity was the only way to return the Rajapaksa family to power.

After security camera videos of the bombings were released, Maulana said he saw that the attackers carrying bomb-laden backpacks were people he had arranged to meet with the intelligence officer.

The Associated Press news agency said Chandrakanthan did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

In a speech on Wednesday, he accused Maulana of making claims to get his asylum application approved in the country where he is currently living. He said he was in prison during that period and questioned how he could have coordinated a terror attack while in detention.

Channel 4 reported that Maulana has been interviewed by United Nations investigators and European intelligence services about his claims.

Rajapaksa said in his statement that he did not have any contact with the intelligence officer named in the documentary from the time he resigned as defence ministry secretary in 2015 until he became president in 2019.

He said the official was not part of any intelligence agency during that period and allegations that he met the suicide bombers were a fabrication.

“This latest film by Chanel 4 is mostly an anti-Rajapaksa tirade aimed at blackening the Rajapaksa legacy from 2005 onwards and is a tissue of lies just like the previous films broadcast by the same channel,” Rajapaksa said, referring to a previous Channel 4 documentary that alleged grave human rights violations by Sri Lankan soldiers in the final phase of the civil war.

Source: News Agencies