Sri Lanka will investigate allegations of intelligence complicity in 2019 Easter bombings

FILE- In this April 21, 2019, file photo, Sri Lankan police officers inspect the site of an explosion at the Shangri-la hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s government will appoint a parliamentary committee to investigate allegations made in a British television report that Sri Lankan intelligence had complicity in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that killed 269 people. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne, file)

By KRISHAN FRANCIS Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s government will appoint a parliamentary committee to investigate allegations made in a British television report that Sri Lankan intelligence had complicity in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that killed 269 people.

A man interviewed in the Channel 4 videos released Tuesday said he arranged a meeting between a local Islamic State-inspired group and a top state intelligence official to hatch a plot to create insecurity in Sri Lanka and enable Gotabaya Rajapaksa to win the presidential election later that year.

On Wednesday, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa called for an international inquiry into the bombing attack. “A large majority of the people are of the view that a fair local investigation has not been conducted into this attack,” Premadasa said in Parliament.

The lack of a proper local investigation has led to confusion, he added.

Premadasa stressed that justice should be delivered to the victims of the attack and therefore, there is a need for “a transparent international investigation to find out the truth about this attack.”

The man in the Channel 4 program, Azad Maulana, was a spokesperson for a breakaway group of the Tamil Tiger rebels that later became a pro-state militia and helped the government defeat the rebels and win Sri Lanka’s long civil war in 2009. Maulana said he arranged a meeting in 2018 between IS-inspired extremists and a top intelligence officer at the behest of his boss at the time, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, the leader of the rebel splinter group-turned-political party.

Rajapaksa was a top defense official during the war, and his older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had been defeated in the 2015 elections after 10 years in power.

A group of Sri Lankans inspired by the Islamic State group carried out the six near-simultaneous suicide bombings in churches and tourist hotels on April, 21, 2019. The attacks killed 269 people, including worshippers at Easter Sunday services, locals and foreign tourists, and revived memories of frequent bombings during the quarter-century war.

Fears over national security enabled Gotabaya Rajapaksa to sweep to power, until he was forced to resign in mid-2022 after mass protests over the country’s worst economic crisis.

Maulana said Chandrakanthan had met the group in prison while in detention on allegations of murder and found they could be useful to create insecurity in the country. Maulana told Channel 4 that he himself did not participate in the meeting, but that the intelligence officer told him later that creating insecurity was the only way to return the Rajapaksa family to power.

After security camera footage of the bombings was released, Maulana recognized the faces of the attackers carrying bomb-laden backpacks as those whom he had arranged to meet with the intelligence officer, Maulana said in the program.

Channel 4 reported that Maulana had been interviewed by United Nations investigators and European intelligence services over his claims.

Rajapaksa has not commented on the claims. Calls to Chandrakanthan went unanswered Wednesday.

Pro-Rajapaksa lawmaker Mahindananda Aluthgamage rejected the accusations in the documentary. He told Parliament that Rajapaksa had no reason to set off bombs or use suicide bombers to get elected because public support was already on his side as shown by the result of local elections held in 2018.

Labor Minister Manusha Nanayakkara told Parliament on Tuesday that details on the investigation would be announced soon.

Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said that authorities had not acted on previous parliamentary and presidential commissions appointed to investigate the attacks.

Officers originally entrusted with investigating the attacks but transferred out by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government should be brought back to assist, and the current group and those named by Channel 4 should have no role in the probe, Ranjith said.

“We sincerely hope that all those requests will be faithfully carried out by the … president and the government of Sri Lanka. Unless such a transparent and sincere investigation is launched, we do not feel truth and justice will be meted out to the innocent victims of the 2019 Easter attacks,” Ranjith said in a statement.