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Sri Lankan President orders probe into 2019 Easter bombings after allegations in British documentary

COLOMBO – Sri Lanka’s President announced an investigation on Sunday into allegations made by a British television documentary that his current spy chief was complicit in the country’s worst attack against civilians.

Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe said he was naming a retired Supreme Court judge to probe accusations that Major-General Suresh Sallay, the head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), orchestrated the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.

The documentary aired last week featured a political insider who accused Maj-Gen Sallay of complicity in the bombings by Islamist extremists at three churches and three hotels, which killed 279 people, including 45 foreigners.

“As the nation grapples with the legacy of this tragic event, President Wickremesinghe’s actions represent a determined effort to uncover the truth and ensure accountability in the face of grave allegations,” his office said in a statement.

It said that the findings of the new inquiry would be referred to a parliamentary panel for action.

Mr Wickremesinghe’s announcement of a fresh local investigation falls short of calls from the island’s Catholic church for an independent international inquiry.

The alleged involvement of local intelligence operatives in the attacks has already been raised in Sri Lankan courts, but no one has been prosecuted.

Several investigations into the attacks found the authorities had failed to act on warnings from an Indian intelligence agency 17 days before the bombings that an attack was imminent.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged an independent investigation with international help to establish the “full circumstances” of the bombings.

Britain’s Channel 4 network said Maj-Gen Sallay was linked to the Easter Sunday bombers and wanted to destabilise Sri Lanka to clear the way for the return to power of the Rajapaksa family, two members of which have served as president.

The spy chief told Channel 4 that he was not in the country at the time of the bombings.

However, his former boss, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, has told Parliament that Maj-Gen Sallay had travelled using several passports.

Two days after the attacks, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he was entering the fray to defeat Islamist extremists.

Mr Gotabaya went on to win the presidential poll held seven months later and Maj-Gen Sallay was named as head of the SIS.

Mr Gotabaya stepped down in July 2022 after months of public protests over an unprecedented economic crisis that led to shortages of food, fuel and medicines.

Mr Wickremesinghe was elected by Parliament to stand in for the balance of Mr Gotabaya’s term but retained Mr Sallay as intelligence chief. AFP

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