Sri Lankan religious leaders condemn extremism two years after Easter bombing

Ambulances are seen outside the church premises with gathered people and security personnel following a blast at the St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade, Colombo on April 21, 2019. / ISHARA S. K

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Numerous religious leaders gathered in Sri Lanka to mark the second anniversary of the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings and to pray for an end to religious extremism.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, spoke at St. Anthony’s Shrine, along with Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim leaders. The service included prayers and two minutes of silence in remembrance of the dead.

Ranjith challenged the country’s Muslim communities to reject extremism and help Catholics identify those behind the 2019 bombings, which killed 269 people at two Catholic churches, a protestant church, and three hotels.

“[B]e brave enough to reject extremism. You fully understand that there is no connection with religion and teachings to murder,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

“We are surprised that even after two years, answers to the questions of who and why and what of these attacks have not been found by the relevant authorities.”

St. Anthony’s Shrine was the location of the first bomb explosion during Easter Sunday Mass two years ago. The attacks are believed to have been carried out by two local radical Islamist groups who had pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Muslim cleric Hassan Moulan also spoke at the service, the Associated Press reported. He said the Islamic faith does not justify crime and said Mulsims around the world condemned the attack. He added that to distance the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks from the religion of Islam, the the Sri Lanka Muslim community has not permitted their bodies to be buried in its cemeteries.

Following the bombings, then-President Maithripala Sirisena created a five-person commission to investigate the attacks. The commission’s final report was presented to current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in February 2021.

Rajapaksa then appointed a new six-member committee to study the report but did not share the report with the Church or with the attorney general.

The refusal to release the contents of the report has led to criticism, with fears that corruption or negligence have prevented the prosecution of collaborators in the attack. The study committee is composed only of government ministers who are members of the ruling coalition.

In October 2020, five of seven suspects arrested in connection with the attacks were released by the government, on the stated grounds of lack of evidence.

At that time, Ranjith said security officials had confirmed to him that there was sufficient evidence against many of the suspects who had been arrested. The cardinal, along with friends and family of the victims, have said they fear the release of the suspects meant corruption, or a lack of a thorough investigation, on the part of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department.


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