Sri Lanka cardinal makes breakthrough over Easter attacks

Govt agrees to appoint new commission, insists progress being made
Sri Lanka cardinal makes breakthrough over Easter attacks

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (background) and Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, lay flowers on Aug. 29 as they pay homage to victims of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks at St. Sebastian's Church. (Photo by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has finally won a concession from Sri Lanka's government after widespread criticism of the investigation into the deadly Easter Sunday attacks.

The president of the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference had appealed for a new independent commission to be appointed to bring impartiality and progress to the non-performing police investigation. The bishops had urged the government to treat their demand as a matter of the utmost urgency.

A nine-man group of suicide bombers affiliated with local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) blasted three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, killing 259 people, including 37 foreign nationals, and wounding at least 500.  Many Christians have been too scared to attend church since the attacks.

Cardinal Ranjith insisted that he would not give up his efforts to find out the culprits behind the attacks.

President’s Counsel Shamil Perera, appearing on the cardinal’s behalf, told the Supreme Court on Sept. 4 that if intelligence information had been disseminated before the attack, church officials could have canceled the ill-fated Easter Sunday services.

Perera told the court that fundamental freedoms had been violated by the failure to act on essential information.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe then announced on Sept. 6 that a new independent commission would indeed be appointed as a direct result of the cardinal’s plea.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara nevertheless insisted they had been making progress and revealed that 293 people had been arrested. “There are 178 held on detention orders and a further 115 suspects have been remanded in custody,” he said.

Gunasekara also said police had frozen hundreds of bank accounts belonging to 41 suspects containing 134 million rupees (US$740,330).

“There are also investigations to freeze assets worth more than 6 billion rupees belonging to the suspects,” he added. 

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