Counter Terrorism Perspectives: CTP

TM: "Sri Lanka Struggles to Deliver Justice for Easter Sunday Terror Victims"

June 09, 2022

On April 21, amid an unprecedented economic meltdown, political turmoil, and social unrest, Sri Lanka observed the third anniversary of the Islamic State (IS)-claimed Easter Sunday terror attacks. To mark the occasion, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised once again to punish those behind the carnage that killed 260 people and injured over 500, who were mostly Christian worshippers at Easter services, foreign nationals, and tourists in hotels. Rajapaksa reiterated his government’s commitment to ensure justice for all the victims of the Easter terror attacks. Despite these promises, Sri Lanka’s Catholic minority community has remained distraught in the face of government inaction and still suspects links between intelligence officials and the perpetrators of the violence (Times of India, July 15, 2021; Colombo Page, February 18).

On April 12, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne provided details about the status of the investigation to douse growing criticism against the government for the delay in holding a trial and prosecuting the perpetrators. According to the information he shared, 735 people have been taken into custody over the Easter attacks and among them, 196 people remain in custody. While 493 suspects were released on bail, court cases have been filed against 81 individuals. According to Gunaratne, 52 Sri Lankan expatriates were brought back to the country over their links to the Easter Sunday attack (Ministry of Defence, April 13). The probe also confirmed the role of Naufer Moulavi of National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ) as the mastermind of the Easter violence. While he propagated IS ideology in the country, NTJ’s Zahran Hashim led the band of suicide bombers (Daily FT, April 21, 2021; Ada Derana, April 12). [1]

The Easter attacks targeted three churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, three luxury hotels in Colombo, and several more places in Dehiwala and Dematagoda in a series of suicide bombings. These coordinated attacks were carried out by two local Islamist organizations, NTJ and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI), which allied with IS and claimed responsibility for the attack through IS’s Amaq news agency (Terrorism Monitor, April 9, 2021). Weeks after the attack, on May 14, 2019, the government banned NTJ, JMI and another group, Wilayat as-Seylani (WAS), under emergency regulations (Twitter/MFA Sri Lanka, May 15, 2019). In August last year, Sri Lanka police filed over 23,270 charges against 25 accused, including Naufar Moulavi, the leader of the NTJ. The charges were filed under the country’s anti-terror law and the trial was scheduled for mid-May 2022. (Colombo Page, March 4).

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter violence submitted its report to President Rajapaksa in February 2021 and then to the parliament in April 2021. This February, all 88 volumes, including those with evidence and related witness records, were submitted to the parliament for further action (The Island, February 23). Refuting the cover-up and conspiracy accusations from the church and civil society organizations, the government clarified that vital information and recommendations of the PCoI were earlier withheld only because of their direct bearing on the national security.

Growing Clamor for Justice

Despite repeated reassurances, the Rajapaksa government, which is often criticized for being autocratic, has received widespread criticism over the lack of action and delay in the legal proceedings. 

Read Complete Article Here: "Sri Lanka Struggles to Deliver Justice for Easter Sunday Terror Victims", Terrorism Monitor, (Jamestown Foundation), Volume XX (11), June 03, 2022