Sri Lankan bishops urge government to release blast inquiry

FILE- In this April 21, 2020 file photo, Sri Lankan Catholics priests stand at the entrance of St. Anthony's church, one of the sites of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, on the first anniversary of the deadly bombings in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic bishops said Monday that they are suspicious of the government’s motives for not sharing with the church a presidential inquiry commission report into the 2019 deadly Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed more than 260 people, and instead appointing a further committee to study it.(AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena.File)
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Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic bishops said Monday that they are suspicious of the government’s motives in not sharing the report of a presidential commission of inquiry into Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in 2019 that killed more than 260 people, and instead appointing another committee to study it.

The Rev. Winston Fernando, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, said the church was alarmed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision last week to appoint a new six-member committee of government ministers to study the report without sharing it with the church or the attorney general for the prosecution of suspects.

“We have a lot of doubts about this whole process, the whole thing is getting delayed,” Fernando told The Associated Press.

“If there are people involved, they want to protect them, I suppose, what else?” Fernando said, without elaborating.

He said the committee, comprising only members of the ruling coalition, was not balanced and its integrity was compromised by the inclusion of people who have other court cases pending against them.

The bomb attacks on April 21, 2019, were blamed on two local Muslim groups who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. The targets were two Roman Catholic churches, a Protestant church and people eating breakfast at three top tourist hotels. A total of 171 people were killed in the Catholic churches.

A communication breakdown between the then president and prime minister that led to a lapse in security coordination was said to have enabled the attacks despite near-specific foreign intelligence warnings in advance.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena, who is now a coalition partner in the Rajapaksa government, and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were among those questioned by the commission.

The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, wrote to Rajapaksa earlier this month requesting a copy of the report and later warned that he would approach international church bodies for help if the government does not act on the report promptly.

The president’s office said Monday that the new committee has been given a mandate to identify measures to be taken by various agencies including Parliament, the judiciary, the Attorney General’s Department, security forces and intelligence services in implementing the presidential commission’s recommendations.