By: Melvin Samuel
Sri Lanka’s former President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday apologised to the country’s minority Catholic community for the devastating 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that killed over 270 people, including 11 Indians.
Nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS carried out a series of blasts that tore through three Catholic churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21, 2019, killing more than 270 people and injuring over 500.
The bombings triggered a political storm as the then President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were blamed for their inability to prevent the attacks despite prior intelligence being made available.
“I say sorry to the Catholic community for something done by others,” Sirisena said while addressing a political group of his Freedom Party here.
His apology came weeks after the Supreme Court on January 12 ordered him to pay SLRs 100 million as compensation to the victims. His failure to pay the victims would send him to jail on contempt of court charges.
Sirisena, the Sri Lankan president from 2015 to 2019, also said he would contest the next presidential election due in 2024.
As many as 12 petitioners, including the kin of the victims, the Catholic clergy, and the lawyers’ body Bar Association of Sri Lanka, had filed the fundamental rights petition against the then president for his negligence in preventing the attacks.
A presidential panel of inquiry appointed by Sirisena after the attacks ironically found the then-president guilty of his failure to prevent the attacks.
Sirisena, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge in the case filed after the panel’s findings.
Head of the local Catholic Church, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, continued to express his dissatisfaction over the probe in the matter, claiming that the investigation was a cover-up.
Sirisena denies the charge and blames the then defence establishment for the lapse which led to the coordinated attacks.