Sri Lanka church seeks criminal justice for Easter bombings

Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church urged the country Friday to criminally prosecute its former leader for negligence, a day after the top court ordered him to pay compensation to the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed nearly 270 people.

Two local Muslim groups that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group were accused of carrying out six near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks, targeting worshippers at Easter services in three churches and tourists having breakfast at three popular hotels. The attacks killed 269 and wounded some 500 more.

Duthika Perera, an attorney representing Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, said the church expects the attorney general to file criminal charges against former President Maithripala Sirisena and four others whom the court found to have neglected their duties to protect the people.

In its decision Thursday on a fundamental rights petition — filed by families of victims, religious leaders and well-wishers — the court said two top intelligence officials, a former secretary to the ministry of defense and Sirisena, who was also defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces, failed to act on near-specific foreign intelligence that was received prior to the attacks.

The court ordered Sirisena to pay 100 million rupees ($273,300) from his personal funds. The other four were ordered to pay a total of 210 million rupees ($574,000).

“So overall we are satisfied by this judgement and the Archbishop of Colombo is anticipating that the attorney general will also take steps to criminally prosecute against these respondents based on the findings of the Supreme Court,” Perera said.

Ranjith said they would continue to seek justice for those killed in the attack.

“This is a beginning, and it is a very happy beginning, and we are very happy that the learned judges gave us such hope for a future for this country, which is a much-needed hope for the developing of our nation,” he said. “We know with this attack tourism completely collapsed, leading to the present crisis in Sri Lanka.”

The attacks badly damaged tourism, a key source of foreign exchange, and contributed to Sri Lanka’s ongoing crisis.

The government has prosecuted several people in connection with the attacks, but leaders of the country’s Catholic Church say they suspect a larger conspiracy and are demanding that the leaders be revealed. Ranjith on Friday called for a deeper investigation.

A presidential commission had earlier recommended criminal charges against Sirisena but it has not been followed up.

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