UK documentary triggers new investigation into state complicity in Sri Lanka terror attacks

At least 269 people including 45 foreign nationals were killed

Namita Singh
Monday 11 September 2023 12:15

Related: Sri Lankan Catholics demand justice for Easter bombing victims

Sri Lanka’s president announced a new committee to investigate allegations made by a UK documentary that Sri Lankan intelligence had complicity in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in the country.

At least 269 people, including 45 foreigners, were killed in the bombings at three churches and three hotels.

Ranil Wickremesinghe said a retired Supreme Court judge will chair the committee appointed to investigate the claims. A Parliamentary Select Committee will also look into the allegations levelled against the country’s spy agency and the reports from the investigation will be presented to parliament, said the president’s media division.

"As the nation grapples with the legacy of this tragic event, President Wickremesinghe’s actions represent a determined effort to uncover the truth and ensure accountability in the face of grave allegations," his office said in a statement, reported AFP.

However, the president’s order of a fresh probe falls short of calling for an independent international inquiry.

The controversy started afresh last week after a man interviewed in a Channel 4 documentary claimed he arranged a meeting between a local Islamic State-inspired group, National Thowheed Jamath, 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.

National Thowheed Jamath is accused of carrying out six suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019.

While there is widely held belief that fear over national security enabled Mr Rajapaksa to sweep to power, the former Sri Lankan president denied the allegations, calling it a “tissue of lies” and an “anti-Rajapaksa tirade”.? He was forced to resign in July 2022 during mass protests over an economic crisis.

Azad Maulana, the man interviewed by Channel 4, was a spokesperson for a Tamil Tiger breakaway group that later became pro-state militia and helped the Sinhalese-dominated government defeat the rebels and win the civil war in 2009.

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Mr Maulana said he arranged a meeting in 2018 between Islamic State-inspired extremists and a top intelligence officer at the behest of his boss at the time, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, the leader of the rebel breakaway group who later became a politician.

Mr Rajapaksa’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had been defeated in the 2015 elections after 10 years as president.

Mr Maulana said Mr Chandrakanthan met the brother of Zainee Hashim, the leader of National Thowheed Jamath, in prison while he was detained on murder allegations and determined that the group could be useful in creating instability.

He said Mr Chandrakanthan arranged for Mr Maulana to help obtain Mr Hashim’s release by providing him with legal and financial assistance.

Once released, Mr Hashim arranged a meeting between National Thowheed Jamath and a top intelligence official close to Mr Rajapaksa, Mr Maulana said.

Mr Maulana told Channel 4 that he 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 videos of the bombings were released, Mr Maulana said he saw that the attackers carrying bomb-laden backpacks were people he had arranged to meet with the intelligence officer.

Mr Rajapaksa said in his statement that he did not have any contact with the intelligence officer named in the documentary from the time he resigned as defense ministry secretary in 2015 until he became president in 2019. He said the official was not part of any intelligence agency during that period and allegations that he met the suicide bombers were a fabrication.

“This latest film by Channel 4 is mostly an anti-Rajapaksa tirade aimed at blackening the Rajapaksa legacy from 2005 onwards and is a tissue of lies just like the previous films broadcast by the same channel,” Mr Rajapaksa said, referring to a previous Channel 4 documentary that alleged grave human rights violations by Sri Lankan soldiers in the final phase of the civil war.

Additional reporting from agencies

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