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Sri Lanka claims Easter bombings investigations in ‘final stages’ despite unanswered questions

Sri Lanka’s security forces claimed their investigations into the April 2019 Easter Sunday bombings are now in its “final stages” and said they had traced two “foreign organisations” that funded the bombers, as questions remain over how the attacks took place despite several international warnings last year.

Sri Lank’s Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Jaliya Senaratne told The Hindu that the security forces “have nearly established the network within Sri Lanka”. “Once that is completed, we may seek INTERPOL’s support to look into the two foreign organisations that we suspect funded the suicide bombers,” he added.

Coordinated suicide bombings took place in churches and luxury hotels in Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa on Easter Sunday last year, killing at least 277 people. A group of Islamic extremists linked to the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) are thought to be responsible.

Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) now claim that Insaf Ibrahim, the suicide bomber who carried out the attack on Cinnamon Grand hotel, had spent around Rs. 45 million without keeping records between January and April 2019 on NTJ operations. So far, police have confiscated some 130 acres of land, eight vehicles and millions of Sri Lankan rupees and US Dollars in cash. Bank accounts with funds over Rs. 134 million have also been frozen as part of their investigation.

Sri Lanka’s current investigating team took charge after the November 2019 presidential elections, which saw former defence secretary and accused war criminal Gotabaya Rajapaksa elected into office. Rajapaksa, who placed blame on the Easter Sunday attacks on the previous regime, recast the CID, which had already arrested some 100 suspects with assistance from both the FBI and Australian Federal Police. The move came alongside a marked increase in militarisation across the island, particularly the Tamil North-East which saw an increased security presence and the setting up of multiple checkpoints.

As investigations carried on, Senaratne told reporters Earlier this year that the NTJ had also “planned a second attack”.

Unanswered questions

Though investigations continue, the latest development comes just days after Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, retired Major General Muhammad Saad Khattak, told a private television station that Pakistan had warned Sri Lanka of the Easter Sunday attacks, but the Sri Lankan government failed to take follow up action.

This follows statements from the former Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, who denied responsibility for the attack. Sirisena claimed that he had not received prior warning of the attack and could not be held responsible.

According to a Sri Lankan parliamentary select committee report, the country’s security forces were given intelligence that showed that an attack was due to take place on Easter Sunday but may have permitted it to ‘create chaos and instil fear’ ahead of presidential elections. That election led to the victory of Rajapaksa who claimed the previous regime ‘diluted’ intelligence services, which he has since pledged to strengthen.

Then-president Maithripala Sirisena though has refused to take responsibility, telling BBC Sinhala in a recent interview:“ Why should I take responsibility? Those who are responsible should take responsibility.”

He has since gone on to claim the attack was planned to disrupt his heavy-handed war on drugs.

Regardless, Sirisena has gone on to reconcile with the Rajapaksas and is widely-tipped to run alongside them in the island’s upcoming parliamentary elections.