The government’s inaction on this matter has caused a severe public outcry, and it is becoming increasingly clear that they are more concerned with using the attack to further their own political agenda rather than taking the necessary steps to bring justice to the victims and their families.

Four years and three Presidents after the deadly Easter terror attacks in April 2021, nothing has changed.

The attacks which cost the lives of 261 persons in addition to those of eight suicide bombers took the country by surprise. A nation lulled into complacency after the end of the Eelam war was rudely awoken by the shock and horror of the Easter Sunday carnage on the 21st of April, 2019. Thus began a saga of conspiracy theories and concealment that is yet to be unraveled.

Maithripala Sirisena was the unfortunate President at the time of the attacks. Even more unfortunately, he was overseas, on a personal visit to Singapore, at the time of the attack. It later transpired that, after learning of the attack he didn’t take the first flight available to return to the country and much was made of this by the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) inquiring into the attack.

To date, there have been four ‘inquiries’ into the attacks: the initial ‘Committee of Inquiry’ appointed by Sirisena, the PSC, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCOI) appointed by Sirisena and finally the Supreme Court which inquired into the fundamental rights applications of aggrieved parties.

The Committee of Inquiry recommended that then Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and then Police Chief Pujith Jayasundara be considered for investigation for alleged negligence. The PSC endorsed this but found fault with other defence officials and President Sirisena as well. The PCOI, which undertook a more exhaustive inquiry and took longer went so far as to recommend instituting criminal proceedings against Sirisena for negligence.

The PCOI also sanctioned then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose excuse it was that he wasn’t aware of the reported threat of the attacks because Sirisena had refrained from inviting him to meetings of the National Security Council. This was after the spat between the two, following Sirisena’s unsuccessful constitutional coup six months prior to the attacks, in October 2018. The PCOI observed that Wickremesinghe, rather than playing the sulking child, should have raised the matter in Parliament and in Cabinet.

The Supreme Court which inquired into a dozen fundamental rights applications arrived at much the same conclusion recommending that Sirisena, Fernando, Jayasundara and several others pay compensation of varying amounts to the victims.

The findings of all these inquiries have a common thread: that the political and defence establishment at the time were caught napping, were grossly negligent in the performance of their duties and that, as a result, 261 innocent civilians had to pay the ultimate sacrifice. Interestingly, none of the inquiries were able to ascertain who the mastermind behind the attack was or whether there was a hidden political agenda behind the incidents.

What we do know is that on the Friday after the Easter Sunday attacks, Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared that he was contesting the presidential election due in November. He projected himself as the person who had delivered the nation from Tamil Tiger terrorism once; now he was again ready to save Sri Lanka from Islamic terrorism.

Indeed, Rajapaksa’s campaign took on a distinctly ethno-religious flavour. This was the time when Islamophobia reigned supreme. Citizens were cautioned against eating from cafes owned by Muslims so they could avoid being poisoned by substances that cause sterility. Medically, this is not possible but such were the myths that were propagated. They seem to have had the desired effect, for Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the contest by a decisive margin with the so-called ‘69 lakhs’ voting for him.

To be fair, one cannot say with any degree of conviction that the attacks were a conspiracy hatched by Gotabaya Rajapaksa or his campaign team. However, it is undeniable that it was Rajapaksa who benefited most from the attacks. What might have been an evenly contested tussle with Sajith Premadasa turned into a one-horse race, once the Easter attack factor forced itself into the election campaign.

The question is, why has the Easter attack mystery not been cracked until now? In his campaign speeches, Gotabaya Rajapaksa vowed to find those responsible for the attack and punish with them without fear or fervour. That was one of the reasons why even voters from the so-called ‘Catholic belt’ from Chilaw to Moratuwa who traditionally vote for the United National Party (UNP) voted in droves for Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa was unceremoniously evicted from his Presidency but he had two and a half years to solve the Easter attacks riddle but did sweet nothing.

In one of his first speeches as President, incoming ‘accidental’ President Ranil Wickremesinghe also pledged to get to the bottom of the Easter attacks. He hasn’t walked the talk either. Why?

The question that is lingering in the minds of the masses is whether the attacks were a terrorist attack motivated purely by religious fanaticism or whether there was more to it than that. If the attack was based purely on religious ideology, why is it that investigators have drawn a blank in exposing this?

The latest fuel added to the fire of speculation comes from Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who wants the Attorney General at that time, Dappula De Livera, questioned regarding De Livera’s opinions regarding the attacks. Unlike Rajapakshe, De Livera has maintained his integrity under the most trying circumstances. Hounding De Livera in his retirement gives rise to more speculation and will do nothing to silence the rumour mill.

Whoever the mastermind of the Easter attack was, there is certainty about one factor: whether the attacks themselves were politically motivated or not, our astute politicians have sensed that it can still be used as a political tool, even four years later. As long as this is possible, their primary motive in discussing the attacks is not to ascertain the truth but to gain some political mileage from the issue.

So, despite the best of intentions of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, despite the horrendous plight of the victims and their bereaved families, we can forget solving great Easter attack mystery. Next year, when we will be commemorating the fifth anniversary of the attack, it can be guaranteed that there will be even more questions- and fewer answers.



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