Sri Lanka begins trial of suspects in Easter 2019 attacks

COLOMBO • A Sri Lankan court yesterday began the trial of 25 men accused of plotting the Easter Sunday bombings that killed nearly 270 people in 2019, as lawyers warned of a protracted and complicated legal battle ahead.

The suspects were brought under heavy guard in batches from different prisons by police to the Colombo High Court in the morning.

Police have filed more than 23,000 charges against the suspects, including conspiring to murder, aiding and abetting the attacks, as well as collecting arms and ammunition.

Lawyers representing the suspects said the charges were too numerous in number and the case could take as long as a decade to conclude.

"As things are now, it is impossible to identify which specific charges match with which suspect. We are hoping there will be more clarity on this. We are concerned that this case will drag on and it will be a futile exercise," attorney Noordeen M. Shaheed, who represents six of the suspects, told Reuters.

The group includes Mohammad Naufer, who officials say masterminded the attack and is linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.

He was escorted by armed police to the court with his face covered by a piece of cloth. Another key suspect is Y. M. Ibrahim, the father of two of the suicide bombers, Inshaf and Illham Ibrahim, who targeted two hotels in Colombo.

Lawyers for Naufer and Ibrahim could not be reached for comment.

The string of attacks carried out on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, targeted three churches and three hotels, killing 267 people, including at least 45 foreign nationals. At least 40 children also died.

The attacks, the worst in Sri Lanka's turbulent history, also injured about 500 people, mostly belonging to the island's minority Catholic community.

The Catholic community is keeping a close eye on the trial, said lawyer Neville Abeyratne, who is representing the head of Sri Lanka's Catholic Church, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. "We are monitoring this trial in the hope that when it ends, we can bring civil action asking for compensation for those who were killed and injured," he told Reuters.

Trials of two Sri Lankan officials accused of failing to prevent the attacks began on Monday. Former national police chief Pujith Jayasundara is charged with failing to act on repeated intelligence warnings of a possible terror attack.

A total of 855 charges of murder and attempted murder were read out as Jayasundara stood in the dock at the back of the courtroom.

Former defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando, the top official in the Defence Ministry at the time, faces similar charges in a separate trial. Both men are out on bail.

REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2021, with the headline Sri Lanka begins trial of suspects in Easter 2019 attacks. Subscribe