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2024.01.25- Easter Sunday extremist attack of 2019: New revelations from Zahran’s wife’s testimony

2024.01.25- Easter Sunday extremist attack of 2019: New revelations from Zahran’s wife’s testimony
  • CoI evidence obtained from Easter mastermind Zahran’s wife’s testimony finds Police including Acting IGP’s alleged negligence 
  • Points to another Easter bomber’s wife (Pulasthini Mahendran/Sarah Jasmine) is likely alive 

The Catholic Church recently stated that it has informed the Vatican of its plan to canonise the victims of  the series of bombings that took place on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, and that related activities will begin in due time.

Although the Church is striving to serve spiritual justice to those who died in the said bombings, the largest single casualty bombing in the recent history of Sri Lanka, the extent of the Government’s will to serve justice to them by properly investigating the bombings and bringing those who are responsible has been questioned by many.

On 21 April 2019, three churches (St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, and Zion Church in Batticaloa) and three luxury hotels in Colombo (Cinnamon Grand, The Kingsbury, and Shangri-La) were targeted in a series of coordinated suicide bombings. Later that day, another two bomb explosions took place at a house in Dematagoda and the Tropical Inn lodge in Dehiwala. A total of 269 people excluding the bombers were killed in the bombings, including about 45 foreign nationals, while at least 500 others sustained injuries.

A number of local and international parties have been pressuring the Governments led by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and current President Ranil Wickremesinghe to serve justice to the people who died in the bombings and their families since the day of the bombings. 

The Catholic Church has been steadfast in seeking justice for the victims, and has made it very clear that they are not satisfied with the investigations that have been carried out by the relevant agencies including the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) thus far regarding the bombings.


Reluctance to disclose info.

Sri Lankans have a reasonable right to demand justice for the 269 people who died in the said bombings, to know the background that led to the attack and to know about the progress of the related investigations except for information, if any, that may affect national security. 

However, it has been observed over the past few years that the related institutions are reluctant to expose information related to the bombings to the public. For example, the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) in Colombo 10 had to make a great effort to obtain some copies of documents related to the evidence given by several important individuals before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that investigated the bombings. After several attempts made by the CSR to obtain the relevant documents from the related institutions, the Parliament has released a set of documents pertaining to the testimonies of National Thowheed Jamaat’h Leader Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zahran’s (Zahran was also one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Shangri-La in Colombo) widow Abdul Cader Fathima Hadiya, the current Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) Deshabandu Tennakoon, the current State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Suresh Sallay, and several others before the CoI to the CSR. A number of important facts related to the bombings have been revealed through the newly released documents.


Hadiya’s testimony

Many important facts have been revealed through the documents related to Hadiya’s testimony. She has testified before the CoI that during a weapons training held in Kandy, the Police had come and checked them, but that they (Police) had failed to find the weapons in the possession of Zahran and the others. Even though the Police had inspected Zahran’s bag, she has testified that Zahran had told her that the Police had failed to find the weapon in it. Hadiya has also made a shocking revelation about Pulasthini Mahendran aka Sarah Jasmine, the wife of Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun, the latter who carried out the suicide bomb attack on the St. Sebastian’s Church. The investigations had previously revealed that Pulasthini was killed during the bomb attack at Zahran’s house in Sainthamaruthu area on 26 April 2019, but it was later reported that she did not die during the bomb attack and that she had fled the country with the help of some other country’s intelligence agency. There was a lot of discussion about this when biological samples taken from the bodies of people who died in the Sainthamaruthu bombing were compared on several occasions with the samples of Pulasthini’s family members including her mother Kavitha Rajaratnam, and they did not match. According to Hadiya’s testimony, Zahran’s brother, Zeini Moulavi and Pulasthini were alive after the initial bomb blast at the Sainthamaruthu house. The relevant documents state that Hadiya has testified that Zeini had spoken to her after the blast and that she then heard gunshots. Pages 170 and 171 of her testimony reveal that after the gunshots, she had heard a scream similar to Pulasthini’s, and that when she turned back, a female had been standing behind her, with blood on her face and burnt clothes. Hadiya has further claimed that the female’s appearance was similar to Pulasthini’s.

On an earlier occasion, the Ministry of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms stated that it was ready to look into the matter if any party presented reasonable facts and figures to the effect that there had been some irregularity or misconduct during the conduct of the relevant biological sample tests pertaining to Pulasthini. In March, last year (2023), the Police stated that a report by the Government Analyst’s (GA) Department had proven that Pulasthini had been among those who died during the Sainthamaruthu bombings on 26 April, but the Catholic Church stated at that time that it could not accept the statement made by the Police, as it was the Police themselves that claimed that she had fled the country to India with the help of a Police officer in the area. Responding to a query at that time, subject Minister, President’s Counsel (PC), Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that he had the highest confidence about the activities and conduct of the GA’s Department, but that he was not competent to express his views on a case by case basis. If someone said that there had been some omission or irregularity on the part of the GA’s Department, he said that they would certainly look into it, adding however that they could not overturn everything just because someone could not believe something.

According to pages 124 and 125 of the testimony of Hadiya, there has been an exchange of goods by the Zahran-led group between their safe houses in Panadura and Katuwapitiya on 3 April 2023. The CSR stated that the lorry, which was claimed by several Opposition Parliamentarians in the Parliament to have been released according to an order from a senior Police officer, was also released on 3 April.


Claiming that there may have been an interrelationship between the exchange of goods between the two houses in Panadura and Katuwapitiya and the said Police officer calling the Galanigama Police outside his jurisdiction and instructing them to release the lorry in question, the CSR charged that the relevant agencies including the CID have so far failed to investigate the matter.

Testifying before the CoI, Tennakoon has said that after the intelligence information received before the Easter Sunday terror attacks was referred to Police officials by the then IGP (Pujith Jayasundara), the then SDIG in charge of the Western Province had given written instructions to a group of Police officers including himself (Tennakoon) on how to deal with it. If those instructions were implemented properly, Tennakoon has said that the bombing at the St. Sebastian’s Church could have been prevented. He has also said that he had sent the relevant sets of letters to lower level Police officers, that he had gone on leave after duty on 18 April 2019, and that he had been in the Mahiyanganaya area at the time of the bombings. When the Commissioners had asked him if he did not inform any Catholic priest about the possibility of a terror attack, he had said that he had not informed any. He has also admitted before the CoI that he had not given instructions to the senior Police officer who was covering his duties during his vacation, regarding the possibility of a terror attack.

The relevant documents reveal that military intelligence units have had information about Zahran long before the bombings on Easter Sunday. Sallay has testified before the CoI that the intelligence officers who worked in the Eastern Province had provided intelligence information about Zahran on several occasions. On page 113 of the document related to the evidence that he has given, it is stated that during his tenure as the Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), they (intelligence officers) were involved with a Thowheed group, and had called them to the Ministry of Defence to hold discussions.

It will be five years to the coming April since a group of innocent people who went to churches on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, with devotion filled their hearts, and others who were having their breakfast in hotels, became victims of a brutal attack by a group of extremists. It is a problem as to why certain politicians, particularly those representing the Government, who say that restrictions should be imposed on social media platforms just because people are making certain posts which the politicians claim cause injustice to them, are reluctant to put pressure on the Government that they represent to do justice to the victims of the bombings. The victims of the 2019 attack deserve justice and relevant measures should be taken against those who are responsible for it. 

Source- The Morning

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