Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the head of Sri Lanka’s Catholic church, has demanded an explanation on an alleged attempt to pin the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Speaking to reporters in Colombo on Friday (13), the cardinal claimed that a military intelligence officer referred to as ‘Sonic’ had used one ‘Zaharan of Matale’ to call an unspecified person in Indonesia to “force” ISIS to claim responsibility for the attack.
“Why was that? We don’t know if it was an attempt to prevent the discovery of who was actually behind the attack. Why was there that much interest in putting it on the shoulder of ISIS?” said Ranjith.
“That means someone here tried to hide it,” he added.
Days after the attack, international media reported quoting the group’s Amaq news agency that it had in fact claimed responsibility, though it did not offer evidence of its involvement.
“Amaq also released photos and a video that it said showed eight attackers — including a segment in which the men are seen standing in front of the group’s black flag, pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” NPR reported on April 23 2019, adding that, according to counterterrorism analysts who monitor ISIS, the group had previously made seemingly opportunistic claims about high-profile attacks.
At Friday’s press conference, the Colombo archbishop also claimed that the Directorate of Military Intelligence had had dealings with Zaharan Hashim’s outfit. The latter led the group of suicide bombers that exploded themselves on April 21 2019 in several parts of the island, killing 269 people and injuring over 500.
“We have to wonder what those dealings were – dealings that were conducted through the person known as Army Mohideen, which was brought up at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI). Were these investigated?
“And what is the story behind the murder of two police officers in Vavunativu? Was that investigated?” said Ranjith.
The identity of a military intelligence officer who had allegedly had dealings with one of the suicide bombers – Jameel, who had attempted to attack the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo before seemingly changing his mind – was also unclear, said the cardinal.
“These facts have already been presented. They’re mentioned here and there in the PCoI report,” he said.
Referring to 25 arrests made in connection with the attack, Ranjith expressed his suspicion that only “small fry” are caught in the investigators’ net while the “big fish” are let go.
“We cannot allow this incident that shook the entire nation to be brushed under the carpet. Please don’t do that. The government must do its duty. Until then we will not stop this protest movement,” he said.
The cardinal has been increasingly disillusioned with government investigations into the Easter attack. In July this year, he said he was sceptical of what he called a politically compromised law enforcement’s ability to probe the “grand conspiracy” behind the bombings.
“There can be doubts about finding out what really happened with a “police that acts according to the wishes of the current political leadership, a criminal investigation department (CID) that follows the political leadership’s agenda, and a legal system and law enforcement personnel that political leaders are trying to control,” Ranjith said on July 13.
Further investigations should be based on some of the contents in the PCoI report as well as certain revelations made by MPs in parliament, he said.
“The former Attorney General had said unequivocally that there was a grand conspiracy behind the attack. We have a right to know what that conspiracy was. Did he make his statement based on the contents of the commission report, or the contents of the 22 volumes that were hidden and submitted later because apparently they could not be released, we do not know,” he said.
Days before his retirement, outgoing Attorney General Dappula de Livera said on May 18 this year that there was clear evidence of a grand conspiracy linked to the April 21 2019 bombings that killed 269 people and injured over 500.
Twenty-two volumes of the PCoI report, purportedly containing sensitive information, were submitted to the Attorney General on March 12, this year, over a month after the ‘final’ PCoI report was handed over to the president.
The PCoI recommended that criminal proceedings be instituted against former President Maithripala Sirisena and others over the incident.
The government has been claiming for some months now that Maulavi (Islamic preacher) Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Naufer and one Rasheed Hajjul Akbar, both of whom are in custody, had been identified as the only confirmed masterminds of the attack.
Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara told reporters in May that no other suspect had been identified as having masterminded the attacks and stressed that the government has no intention to hide its findings.
The official account has been contested by opposition lawmakers and others. Main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Harin Fernando in a controversial statement made in parliament on April 20 claimed that the Islamic preacher was never brought before a presidential commission of inquiry that probed the Easter bombings.
Fernando also claimed that an intelligence officer who had been arrested in connection with the bombings was transferred to the custody of military intelligence before a statement could be recorded. Investigations by former Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Director Shani Abeysekara had revealed that the suspect had had discussions with the perpetrators of the attack, Fernando said.