Colombo, April 6: A top Sri Lankan minister said on Tuesday that a radical cleric, who is now under detention, has been identified as the mastermind of the deadly Easter Sunday attacks in 2019 that killed 270 people, including 11 Indians.
Nine suicide bombers, belonging to local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS, carried out coordinated blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on the Easter Sunday in 2019.
“Naufer Moulavi was the mastermind (of the Easter bombings),” Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekera told reporters here.
Weerasekera said that the cleric was assisted by another person identified as Hajjul Akbar.
He said 32 suspects have been charged with murder and conspiracy to murder.
Eight dossiers have been handed over to the Attorney General, he said, adding that another 75 suspects are under detention.
The total number of suspects in the remand custody is 211, including the 32, who have been charged, he added.
The Buddhist-majority nation was about to mark a decade since ending a 37-year-long Tamil separatist war in May 2009 when the suicide bombings in 2019 rocked the country.
The attacks caused a political storm as the then government headed by President Maithirpala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was blamed for its inability to prevent the deadly attacks despite the prior intelligence made available on the impending terror strikes.
During his tenure, Sirisena formed a presidential panel to probe the attacks.
In its report, the panel said that former president Sirisena and a host of other top defence officials, including former defence secretaries, former IGPs and intelligence chiefs, were guilty of ignoring prior intelligence. The panel report recommended criminal action against them.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the head of the local Catholic church, has been demanding action against Sirisena.
The Colombo Church has been holding a ‘Black Sunday’ congregation every week, demanding justice for the victims.
Ranjith has vowed to take drastic action if the real culprits were not dealt with by the second anniversary of the attacks on April 21.
The findings of the presidential panel which found Sirisena culpable has come under criticism by political parties claiming that the panel had not been able to identify the masterminds and those who provided funds to the bombers.
The panel had recommended that findings against Sirisena and the then police top brass be referred to the Attorney General for necessary legal action.
Sirisena has publicly denied receiving any prior information on the attacks. (PTI)