New probe ordered into Sri Lanka's Easter attacks

Church requests for independent commission is granted, but not everyone has great faith in it
New probe ordered into Sri Lanka's Easter attacks

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (left) and Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, look at a blood-splattered statue of Jesus at St. Sebastian's Church, Negombo, one of three churches attacked on Easter Sunday. (Photo by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has appointed a new five-member commission to investigate and expedite action over the Easter Sunday bombings.

This fresh probe into the suicide attacks came after continuous demands from the Catholic Bishops Conference and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo for a new independent commission that could secure overdue progress.

The bishops urged the government to treat their demand as matter of the utmost urgency.

Sirisena appointed a five-member commission Sept. 21, headed by an Appeal Court judge. His action came just weeks ahead of presidential elections scheduled for Nov. 16.

The task of the committee will be to carry out an impartial and complete investigation and identify the individuals or organizations directly or indirectly connected to the Easter Sunday atrocities.

The seven coordinated suicide attacks were perpetrated at three churches, three luxury hotels and a housing complex, killing 259 people, including 37 foreign nationals.

The committee has also been tasked with identifying police officers and officials who failed to perform their duties adequately.

Sirisena said a large number of complaints and allegations had been filed against public servants who had been accused of having direct or indirect connections with causing the loss of life, hundreds of wounded and widespread damage to property.

“It is in the best interest of public security and welfare to conduct investigations and inquiries into such complaints, allegations and information, in order to ascertain what measures should be made to provide far and ensure that the law is appropriately enforced,” said the president.

One of the main allegations against the police and security forces is they failed to act on intelligence reports to protect churches.

'Drug gangs responsible'

Following the attacks, Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned and Police Chief Pujitha Jayasundara was suspended.  

“There will be no recurrence of such alleged acts and or omissions, negligence or failure to perform duties amounting to offences and abuse or misuse of power or authority,” said Sirisena.

Earlier he said that international drug gangs had been behind the bombings since he had announced his intention to reintroduce capital punishment for drug offences.

The president has requested the committee to hand an interim report within three months and a final report within six months. The latter must include its findings and recommendations.

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The Sri Lankan Church said that if intelligence information had been properly disseminated before the attacks, church officials could have cancelled ill-fated Easter Sunday services on April 21.

It said that fundamental freedoms had been violated by the failure to act on essential information.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said he no longer had faith that justice would prevail over the Easter Sunday victims, despite repeated requests to reveal the truth behind the attacks.

Nevertheless, the cardinal insisted he would not give up his efforts to see justice handed out to those who massacred Christians as they prayed.

A parliamentary select committee was also appointed to record statements related to the bomb attacks and the committee will submit its report next month.

More than 170 suspects have been detained and questioned while a further 115 remain in custody.

Manuel Fernando, a businessman who escaped from one of the three churches, targeted, Katuwapitiya St. Sebastian, said he and his fellow parishioners had little faith any progress would be made in the inquiry during the run-up to the presidential election.

“Again an independent commission. How independent can they be? What happened to the earlier committee report?” he asked.

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