269 were killed in attacks that hit two Catholic churches and other buildings. Now Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith wants to know the truth about them.
by PierLuigi Zoccatelli
In these times, tragedies come one after another at a quick pace. No matter how much they move us, they are quickly forgotten.
One of the horrors many forgot hit Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019, and left 269 dead. Three luxury hotels were targeted by bomb attacks in the commercial capital, Colombo. A Protestant church in Batticaloa, Zion Church, was also hit by the bombings. The bloodiest attacks targeted two Catholic churches, St. Sebastian’s in Negombo and the Shrine of St. Anthony in Colombo. Because on that day the Catholics were celebrating Easter, the churches were full. 115 died in St. Sebastian’s only, including 27 children.
The police claimed to have identified the perpetrators, eight suicide bombers who all perished in the attacks. Regarded as co-responsible was also a woman called Fathima Ilham, the pregnant wife of one of the suicide bombers, who killed herself and her three children, plus three police officers, by detonating a bomb when the police raided her home. All were said to be members of National Tawahujja Jama’ath, a local ultra-fundamentalist Muslim group that had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).
Suicide bombers act alone, but never without a network of planners and accomplices. The police arrested some 200 suspects, and a trial started in 2021. Two governmental commissions investigated the Easter bombings, but their full reports were never published.
The victims’ families are afraid that the prosecution is being stopped before it can reveal the involvement of foreign states in the attacks, and problems within the Sri Lankan government itself.
Cardinal Malcom Ranjith of Colombo has expressed on several opportunities his opinion that only “small fishes” have been caught and the truth may never come out. His complaints were supported in 2021 by the news site of the Vatican.
As Catholic protests mounted, the government reacted last month by arresting one of the most vocal protesters, Shehan Malaka Gamage, although he was later released on bail.
Cardinal Ranjith has called the prosecution of Shehan Malaka “a thuggish act.”
Last week, the Cardinal went to Europe and met Pope Francis in Rome and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in Geneva. He asked both of them to intervene on behalf of the victims of the Eastern Bombings, who demand a long-delayed justice and the truth. They have a right not to be forgotten.