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Sri Lankan cardinal reiterates coverup in Easter bombing probe

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By Vatican News staff reporter

Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith alleges that the government has been covering up the investigations into the Easter bombings of 3 years ago in order to protect the brains behind the attacks.  Since the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks were not being implemented to protect the real culprits, he said he was taking the case to the international community.

Nearly 270 people were killed, including at least 45 foreign nationals and some 500 were injured, as 3 churches and 3 luxury hotels were hit in a series of coordinated Islamist terrorist suicide bomb attacks on April 21, 2019. 

Most of the casualties took place in St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church in the suburb of Negombo, belonging to Cardinal Ranjit’s Archdiocese of Colombo, where 113 died. The other churches hit were St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade, also of Colombo Archdiocese, and the Evangelical Zion Church of Batticaloa on the eastern coast. 

Failed promise

At a ceremony on Thursday at St. Sebastian’s Church to mark the 3rd anniversary of the bombings, Cardinal Ranjith delivered a hard-hitting speech, blaming President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government for failing to keep his pledge to grant justice to the victims and cleansing the country of “all elements of terror”.  

“The incumbent president who campaigned on a promise to investigate the attack have forgotten all those promises, brushed commission findings under the rug, attempted to hide facts,” Cardinal Ranjith said.  Condemning the coverup, he warned that “everyone responsible for this will suffer the consequences of their actions soon”.

Coverup

“The people of the country have doubts as to whether the current government is protecting the former president out of fear that their involvement in the Easter attack may be revealed,” the cardinal said. He said that the former president, intelligence units and the police concealed details of the impending attacks despite having prior knowledge and thereby failed to ensure public safety.

He further alleged that the attack was used by a presidential election candidate to garner support on the issue of national security.

“We are suspicious that the present regime continues to delay the implementation of the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission which probed the Easter Sunday attack including taking action against former President Maithripala Sirisena is delayed because such action may result in more disclosures.”

Cardinal Ranjith said the release of former inspector general of police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara and former defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando, who publicly acknowledged that they knew about the attack, was an insult to those killed and injured in the attack.

“The current IGP, who promoted certain police officers despite the recommendations of the Presidential Commission to conduct disciplinary inquiries, is also responsible for the bloodshed of innocent people who died in the Easter attack,” Cardinal Ranjith said.

A trial of 25 men accused of plotting the bombings began in November last year but was adjourned in January to allow time for the indictments to be translated into the Tamil language, which the majority of the suspects speak.

Protests

Meanwhile, in Negombo, thousands including priests and nuns dressed in black marched on the streets holding posters and chanting slogans to mark the anniversary of the bombings that have been blamed on local armed groups allegedly affiliated with the Islamic State (IS), as family members of the victims joined the clergy in demanding for justice

This is in addition to endless nationwide protests demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa and his government over Sri Lanka’s worsening economic crisis, which has left people and their families struggling desperately for basic necessities such as fuel, food and medicines, amid skyrocketing inflation.

Cardinal’s challenge

During a recent visit to Europe, Cardinal Ranjith met Pope Francis on 28 February in the Vatican and updated him on the situation in Sri Lanka. 

He told reporters he explained to the Pope that he will not rest in his pursuit of justice and truth. “The Pope has been a great source of inspiration and hope for us. He has always told me to move ahead and struggle with the people to get justice for them. That is the challenge I have,” the cardinal said.

Later, he briefed Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, on the developments in his country. He also addressed the Human Rights Council where he raised the issue of the flawed investigation into the bombings. 

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