Sri Lankan protesters demand justice for 2019 Easter Sunday attacks

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COLOMBO: Thousands of Sri Lankans held a protest in the capital on Friday, demanding justice for the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed nearly 270 people.

The protesters demanded that the government uncover who they said were the real conspirators behind the attacks on three churches — two Catholic and one Protestant — that included simultaneous suicide bombings during Easter celebrations on April 21, 2019. Three tourist hotels were also targeted, killing 42 foreigners from 14 countries.

Thousands of people including Catholic clergy on Friday lined up for a silent protest on both sides of the main road connecting the capital, Colombo, with the country’s international airport. They blamed the government for not taking adequate measures to deliver justice for the victims of the bombings and punish those responsible.

The protesters, dressed in white and black, held one another’s hands, forming a human chain. They displayed placards and banners that read “Until justice is meted out, we are watching,” “No justice delivered to victims so far” and “Where is the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attack?”

Two local Muslim groups that had pledged allegiance to the Daesh group were accused of carrying out six near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks, targeting worshippers at Easter services in three churches and tourists having breakfast at three popular hotels. The attacks killed 269 people and wounded some 500 more.

Officials have charged dozens of people who allegedly received weapons training and participated in indoctrination classes from the two local Islamic extremist groups accused of carrying out the attacks. But no one has yet been convicted or sentenced.

“Four years have gone, still no one has been punished for this brutal attack. It is really disgusting. We need to know who are the real culprits and their motives,” said Ruwan Fernando, 47, who protested on Friday.

To mark the four-year anniversary of the blasts, prayer services were also held at churches across Sri Lanka on Friday, with the main ceremony held at one of the churches attacked by the bombers in Colombo.

At that ceremony, Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith lamented the failure of successive governments to identify the conspirators in the attacks.

He urged the authorities to probe alleged links between some of the attackers and members of state intelligence.

He called on the government to conduct a full-scale investigation into the blasts, saying: “Until justice is done, we will be watching.”

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has been critical of the investigation into the bombings. The church’s leaders have repeatedly criticized the previous and present governments for their failure to bring the culprits to justice.

A breakdown in communication caused by a rift between then-President Maithripala Sirisena and then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was blamed for the failure of authorities to act on near-specific foreign intelligence received prior to the attacks. The duo belonged to different political parties.

In January, Sri Lanka’s top court ruled that inaction by Sirisena and four others led to the bomb attacks and ordered them to pay compensation for violating the basic rights of the victims and their families.