Ousted Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Image: AP)
Sri Lanka's ousted president Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday refuted the allegations made by a British television channel that the 2019 Easter suicide bombings that killed nearly 270 people were engineered by his loyalists to get him elected as president and called it a ''tissue of lies.'' UK's Channel 4 television station on Tuesday aired a documentary titled 'Sri Lanka's Easter Bombings - Dispatches' alleging the involvement and complicity of certain government officials in orchestrating the 2019 Easter suicide bombings. It called the attacks a ''crafted act'' aimed at forcing a political change in favour of the Rajapaksa brothers.
In a lengthy statement, the 74-year-old ousted president called the documentary "mostly an anti-Rajapaksa tirade aimed at blackening the Rajapaksa legacy from 2005 onwards and is a tissue of lies just like the previous films broadcast by the same Channel.'' He said that to claim a group of Islamic extremists launched suicide attacks to make him President is absurd.
Responding to the claims that Major General Suresh Salley, who was accused in the documentary of plotting the 2019 attacks with the Muslim extremists, was a Rajapaksa loyalist, the former president said that Salley was a career military officer who has served under many presidents and all military officers are loyal to the State and not to private individuals.
Rajapaksa claimed that he had no contact with Salley after leaving the position of Defence Secretary in 2015 and until he was elected President in 2019. He added that Salley had informed Channel 4 that he was not in Sri Lanka when the documentary alleged a meeting between the Major General and the suicide bombers.
"Hence, this story about Maj Gen Sallay meeting the suicide bombers in February 2018 is clearly a fabrication," Rajapaksa said.
Asserting that the 2015-19 government neglected the rise of Islamic militancy in the island nation, Rajapaksa said, "The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings has stated quite clearly that signs of a Muslim extremist build-up were ignored by the government of 2015-2019." Rajapaksa said he opted to obtain the assistance of the FBI/CIA in the investigations when he was linked to the attacks.
However, he was informed by top US counter-terrorism officials that it would not make sense for Washington to conduct an additional investigation into the attacks as they had already been cooperating with Sri Lanka's investigation.
Rajapaksa claimed he had done everything possible to help the Roman Catholic community in the country when he held the government office.
Nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three Catholic churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21, 2019, killing nearly 270 people, including 11 Indians, and injuring over 500.
On Wednesday, the Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment, Manusha Nanayakkara, told Parliament that the Cabinet decided to appoint a special Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to probe into the allegations made by the UK's Channel 4 programme that the attack was ''crafted act'' to force a political change in favour of the Rajapaksa brothers.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced his candidature three days after the attacks and was elected president seven months later. His elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was also the country's former president and prime minister. Both Rajapaksa brothers were forced to resign last year amidst the unprecedented economic crisis in the island nation.
Under his presidency, Sri Lanka declared bankruptcy for the first time since 1948 in April last year, at the height of public protests which lasted for months.
The April 2019 Easter attacks led to a significant political change in Sri Lanka. It emerged that the then authorities had ignored prior intelligence on the attack by Indian intelligence agencies.
Then President Maithripala Sirisena and the entire top police brass were ordered to pay compensation by court during a hearing of fundamental rights petitions filed by the victims' relatives.
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