Sri Lankans have earned notoriety for their very short collective memory. It is said that they cannot remember anything for more than a fortnight. Their memory deficit has stood politicians in good stead; the latter can get away with their broken promises and wrongdoings, which are legion. In the run-up to the 2019 presidential election, the SLPP may have thought that its promise to have the Easter Sunday terror attacks probed thoroughly and justice served expeditiously would be forgotten with the passage of time like all other issues and pledges. But it was wrong; it obviously did not anticipate the Catholic church’s tenacity and persistence in the pursuit of justice for the victims of the terrorist bombings.

Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has been at the forefront of the ongoing struggle to have the Easter Sunday carnage investigated properly and the masterminds behind it brought to justice. What he has undertaken is akin to the so-called Herculean labors, given the reluctance on the part of those in power to dig deep lest they should have unexpected problems to contend with. It is common knowledge that the Easter Sunday tragedy occurred because the then Yahapalana government was dysfunctional for all practical purposes due to a crippling power struggle between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and it neglected national security.

The Catholic Church would have the public believe that there was a political conspiracy behind the attacks to influence the outcome of the presidential election that followed a few months later, and the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government did not make a serious attempt to probe the Easter Sunday carnage because it had something to hide. All those who are in the Opposition at present were either supportive of Wickremesinghe or Sirisena, in 2019. The TNA, the SLMC, the JVP, etc., backed PM Wickremesinghe, and the Joint Opposition MPs who were members of the SLPP, supported President Sirisena. This may explain why neither President Wickremesinghe nor the SLPP nor the Opposition is keen to have the 2019 terrorist bombings probed thoroughly. It is against this political backdrop that the efforts being made by the Cardinal and the Catholic Church, and others to have justice served should be viewed.

Cardinal’s continued struggle

The Archbishop of Colombo issued a strongly-worded statement, at a commemorative event, in Colombo, on Friday (21), to mark the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks that claimed 272 lives and left more than 500 others injured. He called for an investigation into the alleged connections between the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DM) and Zahran Hashim’s terror group, the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), which carried out the bomb attacks.

The Cardinal lashed out at governments, present and past, for having withheld some vital information about the Easter Sunday attacks. He said three statutory bodies had carried out investigations into the carnage—the Vijith Malalgoda Committee, a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which was appointed at the request of the Catholic Church. Governments, he said, may have held back some information contained in the reports issued by the above-mentioned investigative bodies as they did not want to open a can of worms.

The Catholic Church has based its campaign for a reinvestigation on a statement made by the then Attorney General Dappula de Livera, in 2021, that there had been a ‘grand conspiracy’ behind the carnage, and the issue was far more complicated that it looked. In response to the Church’s persistent call for a probe, the government has got the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Police Department to summon de Livera and record a statement from him. He did not turn up on Wednesday (19), and a lawyer representing him visited the TID instead and submitted a seven-page document containing legal objections. The police have warned that unless de Livera himself turns up next time, legal action will be instituted against him.

Bomber’s wife

The Catholic Church has taken exception to a claim by the police that Sara Jasmine, the widow of Muhammadu Hastun, who bombed the Katuwapitiya Church, is dead, though two DNA tests conducted previously proved that she had not been among those killed in an NTJ hideout in the East in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday carnage. The claim that she is dead is based on a third DNA test, which the Church has dismissed as an attempt at a grand cover-up. The Cardinal pointed out, in his statement, on Friday, that according to the PCoI, the DNA analysis had established that Sara had not died in the blast at Kattankudy, Batticaloa. The Cardinal went on to say, “The DNA tests done already twice and the evidence given by Hadiya, the wife Zahran Hashim, show that she [Sara] did not die in the violent confrontation that took place between the security forces and the remainder of Zahran’s group at Kattankudy, where many were killed … one needs to question further on the whereabouts of Sara considering also the evidence given by Chief Inspector Mahinkanda, who in his evidence stated that Sara had escaped to India and was receiving protection there. Indeed, at present, there is a case going on in Batticaloa against a certain police officer who is alleged to have helped her to escape to India via Mannar by boat.”

Political conspiracy

The Cardinal quoted extensively from the PSC report, which says, among other things: “The PSC also observes that further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instill fear and anxiety in the lead-up to the presidential election to be held later in the year. Such a situation would then lead to the call for a change of regime to contain such acts of terrorism.  Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, the security situation and fear would be unleashed months away from the presidential election. The PSC also notes that this occurred in the contest of changes in the leadership in the Sri Lankan army and the DMI in 2019. These are extremely serious observations that can impact the democratic governance, electoral processes and security of Sri Lanka and must require urgent attention.”

The Cardinal also demanded to know what Zahran’s wife had mentioned in her testimony before the PCoI because she must have been aware of the links between her husband and the DMI. He called for the release of the volumes of the report containing evidence given by Hadiya and others.

He also pointed out that the PCoI report said that the DMI had followed the seventh suicide bomber who, for some reason, did not blast his bomb at Taj Samudra Hotel and went to Dehiwala, carrying the bomb; the DMI officers even visited his wife called Omarkatha to question her. He said they had done nothing to arrest him or stop him from blowing himself up at the Tropical Inn Hotel later on. “One could thus ask whether he committed suicide or whether his bomb was exploded by remote control. If this terror squad member named Jameel had been arrested by then, he would have been a witness of great value.

Curiously, neither the police nor the DMI has cared to address these concerns, and it is only natural that the Catholic Church suspects that there was some connection between the DMI and the NTJ.

Other concerns that the Carinal expressed, on Friday, on behalf of the Catholic Church are as follows:

  1. a)What made the heads of the DMI and the SIS [State Intelligence Service] as well as the police undervalue four repeated warnings given by Indian Intelligence Service with regard to the Easter Sunday attacks?
  2. b)Who is the officer of the Intelligence Services with the nom de guerre, ‘Sonic-Sonic’, who got a certain person called Zahran of Matale to call the ISIS in Indonesia and urge them to accept responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks, and why was this officer so keen to drag the ISIS into this matter when they didn’t know about it at the initial stage? The IP registration address and the name of the owner of the telephone used by this person should also be identified.
  3. c)As indicated in the PCoI report, which affirms that the ‘CID investigators who testified before the PCoI informed that they are investigating into the identity of Abu Hind. Those investigations should proceed.” This matter should be further looked into. No progress has been reported.
  4. d)As indicated in the Presidential Commission Report, ‘in view of the above facts, the PCoI recommends that the ongoing criminal investigation examines the role, if any, of Ahamed Thlalib Lunkman Thalib, his son Lukman Tahilib Ahamed aka Abdulla and Rimsan in the Easter Sunday attacks.” This aspect too needs to be seriously examined.


Call for fresh probe

The Cardinal has urged the government and the Attorney General to take concrete action based on the recommendations of the PCoI and conduct fresh investigations, following up on those already done either by the CID.

This is something the government could do forthwith if it has nothing to hide and no one to protect. Only a fresh investigation conducted to the satisfaction of all stakeholders as well as action taken based on its findings will help allay doubts and suspicions.

Silver lining

The Archbishop of Colombo, however, is of the view that the Easter Sunday tragedy has brought about a positive change in Sri Lankan’s thinking and self-awareness. He has said that Sri Lankans have matured and achieved a sense of broadmindedness which embraces all. They have definitely defeated their political leaders’ corrupt practice of setting communities against one another, breeding discord and hate amongst them on the basis of their religion, race or language in order to gain selfish power.

His appeal that attempts by corrupt politicians to divide society to achieve their sinister ends be defeated at any cost must have struck a responsive chord with the public.








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