Disturbing evidence on Sri Lanka Easter bombers’ connections

By Savi Hensman
June 10, 2019

The Sri Lankan authorities face tough questions after alarming allegations about terrorists linked with the Easter Day bombings of churches and hotels, in which 258 people died. Parliament was reportedly told that the bomber Zahran Hashim and about 30 others in Thowheed Jamath had been on the payroll under the government of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who did not deny it. An even more extreme splinter group from this went on to commit the April 2019 killings.

In an attempt to shut down the select committee probe, the current president (himself accused of failing to act on warnings) has sacked the national intelligence chief. Yet this is likely to deepen mistrust.

The ex-president and his brother, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (a presidential candidate), are linked with ‘Buddhist’ hardliners hostile to minorities. Muslims have faced hostility and violence in recent weeks, though the bombers were part of a small and unpopular faction opposed by others in their own religious community.

In Sri Lanka, as in many other countries, those seeking power have often twisted faith traditions to bolster their own interests. Sections of the ruling elite close to the current and former presidents have dangerously inflamed tensions, despite their own failings and attempts by Christian leaders and others to try to restore peace.

Rajapaksa’s appeal within the Sinhalese majority rests in part on his claim that he can keep them safe. The latest allegations, if true, raise serious questions about his judgement, at the very least – and whether any contacts with the terrorists continued.

Claims about links between intelligence operatives and extremist groups appeared earlier, in 2016. A few days after the bombings, declaring his bid to become president, Rajapaksa mentioned having run a network supposedly tracking the bent towards extremist ideology among some of the Islamist groups. But this would not explain funding so many of the most dangerous people in the country, rather than infiltrating their circles then arresting them, or why calls by more moderate Muslims for a crackdown were ignored.

The timing of his announcement, combined with the failure of the security forces to act on warnings about the attacks, increased suspicion , warranted or otherwise. Repeated failures to act on past abuses have badly dented politicians’ credibility and transparency may be the only way to rebuild trust.

In early June 2019, the Leader of the House and public enterprise minister Lakshman Kiriella reportedly told Parliament that “The previous Government paid salaries from State accounts to 30 members of the Thowheed Jamaath. This includes Zahran Hashim. We will prove this in the Parliament Select Committee.”

Mahinda Rajapaksa apparently objected that “It is wrong to disclose matters discussed at a Select Committee” and that summoning intelligence officers might compromise security – but did not seem to dispute the evidence. The people of Sri Lanka and the world, especially those who lost loved ones in the Easter attacks, deserve the truth.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (http://dltbooks.com/titles/2195-9780232532616-feast-or-famine)

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