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Sri Lanka marks Easter bombing anniversary

Grim memories: Families of victims of the 2019 Easter attacks at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: AP

Sri Lanka on Wednesday marked the second anniversary of the gruesome Easter terror bombings that killed more than 250 people on April 21, 2019, amid mounting criticism from the Catholic church and political opposition over the delay in completion of the probe into the incident.

On Wednesday morning, hundreds of devotees, including relatives of victims, gathered at the St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo, which was one of the sites of the serial bombings executed by suicide bombers from an IS-inspired local Islamist radial group.

Most gathered at the church were attired in black, as they mourned and prayed for their loved ones. Bombs had simultaneously exploded two years ago at the St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo ,40 km north of Colombo, the Zion Church in the eastern city of Batticaloa, and three luxury hotels in Colombo, griping the country in shock a decade after its civil war.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith 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 ‘don’t care’, where all factors are not properly investigated,” he said, speaking at the commemorative service at St. Anthony’s Church.

Days before the anniversary event, however, the cardinal -- who earlier called for an international investigation into the bomb attacks -- told a media conference he was willing to give the government some more time as such investigations take time.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fought elections in November 2019, six months after the Easter attacks, on the plank of enhanced national security, vowing to bring perpetrators to justice. His victory brought hope to many who were outraged by the security lapses in the former Maithripala Sirisena – Ranil Wickremesinghe administration ahead of the terror attack, despite receiving prior intelligence, including from India.

Making a special statement in Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said all those responsible for the brutal Easter Sunday attacks would be brought to justice. His statement came a day after Opposition lawmaker Harin Fernando from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or united people’s front) made serious accusations in Parliament, linking a senior intelligence official with the Easter terror network. Earlier, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader and MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake alleged that the Easter day attacks were “politically motivated”, and the “real mastermind” is yet to be identified.

A Parliament Select Committee, set up under the former government, and a commission appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena, which continued its probe after regime change, submitted detailed reports on the incident. However, neither has conclusively established what or who drove the nine suicide bombers who blew up themselves, killing and injuring hundreds.

Although the police have arrested some 200 people since the suicide attacks, no one has yet been charged in connection with the bombings. On the eve of the second anniversary, 16 men among them were charged for allegedly desecrating Buddha statues in December 2018, an incident that investigators consider a precursor to the Easter day attack.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 2:36:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lanka-marks-easter-bombing-anniversary/article34379164.ece

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