Sri Lanka's ex-President Sirisena apologises for 2019 Easter Sunday bombings

Sirisena's apology came after Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on January 12 ordered him to pay SLR 100 million as compensation to the victims.
Former Sri Lanka president Maithripala Sirisena (Photo | AP)
Former Sri Lanka president Maithripala Sirisena (Photo | AP)

COLOMBO: Former Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday apologised to the country's minority Catholic community for the devastating 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that killed over 270 people, including 11 Indians, saying that the carnage took place without his knowledge.

Nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS carried out a series of blasts that tore through three Catholic churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21, 2019, killing more than 270 people and injuring over 500.

The bombings triggered a political storm as then President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were blamed for their inability to prevent the attacks despite prior intelligence being made available.

"I say sorry to the Catholic community for something done by others," Sirisena said while addressing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) press briefing here.

Sirisena's apology came after Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on January 12 ordered him to pay SLR 100 million as compensation to the victims.

His failure to pay the victims would send him to jail on contempt of court charges.

"As far as I know, the Catholic people hold no grudge against me," news portal Economy Next quoted the 71-year-old MP as saying.

"As someone who read the Bible at 15, 16 years of age, I ask God for forgiveness that something like this happened during my tenure though carried out by others and because of which I have had to pay compensation. I ask for forgiveness from those who died and lost their limbs and from God that an incident like this occurred during my term," he said.

The former president stressed the attack took place without his knowledge.

"This verdict does not say that I did anything wrong. It says if officials appointed by the president make a grave mistake, the president is responsible. That's what the paragraph on the verdict says about me," the report quoted Sirisena as saying.

Sirisena, the Sri Lankan president from 2015 to 2019, asserted that he would contest the next presidential election due in 2024.

A visibly emotional Sirisena also drew comparisons with former South African President and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.

Mandela was in prison for 27 years, but he came out and the people made him president," Sirisena said.

"I will not back down in the face of anything. I'm not affected by any conspiracy. I respect the courts and the law and bow down to the court," he added As many as 12 petitioners, including the kin of the victims, the Catholic clergy, and the lawyers' body Bar Association of Sri Lanka, filed the fundamental rights petition against the then-president for his negligence in preventing the attacks.

A presidential panel of inquiry appointed by Sirisena after the attacks ironically found the then-president guilty of his failure to prevent the attacks.

Sirisena, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge in the case filed after the panel's findings.

Head of the local Catholic Church, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, continued to express his dissatisfaction over the probe, claiming that the investigation was a cover-up.

Sirisena denies the charge and blames the then defence establishment for the lapse which led to the coordinated attacks.

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