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Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court Sets Up 3-member Bench for 2019 Easter Attack Trial

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed a three-member bench to hear the cases filed against the suspects in connection with the 2019 Easter suicide attack in which over 270 people, including 11 Indians, were killed. Lankan police had filed 23,270 charges against 35 people last month in the case. The charges filed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act include conspiring to murder, aiding and abetting, collecting arms and ammunition, and attempted murder.

Colombo High Court Judge Damith Thotawatte will chair the three-judge bench, while Judges Amal Ranaraja and Navaratne Marasinghe have been appointed as members of the judiciary panel The setting up of the special Trial-at-Bar at the Colombo High Court came following a request from Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam to Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya last month. Nine suicide bombers, belonging to local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS, carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, killing over 270 people and injuring more than 500 people on April 21, 2019.

The Buddhist-majority nation was about to mark a decade since ending a 37-year-long Tamil separatist war in May 2009 when the bombings in 2019 rocked the country. The attacks caused a political storm as the then government headed by president Maithripala Sirisena and prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was blamed for its inability to prevent the deadly attacks despite the prior intelligence made available on the impending terror strikes.

The Catholic Church has also expressed its dissatisfaction over the ongoing investigations, which they alleged was an attempt for a cover up. The church has been demanding justice for the victims, asserting that no action has been taken against Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, despite a commission of inquiry finding both of them culpable for their failures to prevent the attack.

The government maintains that investigations are proceeding. Lankan police have arrested hundreds of suspects in connection with the suicide bombings. During his election campaign in November 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had pledged to conduct a thorough investigation into the attacks and bring the culprits to book.

During his tenure, Sirisena had formed a presidential panel to probe the attacks. In its report, the panel said former president Sirisena and a host of other top defence officials, including former defence secretaries, former IGPs and intelligence chiefs, were guilty of ignoring prior intelligence. The panel report recommended criminal action against them.

Both the then-police chief and the top defence bureaucrat were sacked and arrested for their inaction to prevent the attacks. Then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was also blamed for turning a blind eye to the rising Islamic militancy. It was cited as an encouragement to the extremists. Both have denied responsibility.

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