A presidential panel probing the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka has summoned former president Maithripala Sirisena and former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for giving their testimonies on the deadly terror strikes, officials said on Tuesday. Nine suicide bombers belonging to local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels on the Easter Sunday last year, killing 258 people, including 11 Indians.
While Sirisena is scheduled to appear before the commission on October 5, Wickremesinghe will testify before the panel on October 6, the officials said. The previous government headed by Sirisena and Wickremesinghe was blamed for its inability to prevent the attacks despite the prior intelligence made available on the impending attack.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who pledged an independent probe in the incident during his election campaign in November last year, continued with the same panel appointed by Sirisena after assuming office. Sirisena had appointed the panel as an immediate reaction to pressure from the local head of the Catholic Church Cardinal, Malcolm Ranjith.
The Easter attack was one of the main reasons for the crushing defeat of the Wickremesinghe's government in the August parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, testifying before the commission on Monday, former defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando accused the then head of the state intelligence services (SIS), Nilantha Jayawardene, for negligence of duty. Fernando was arrested and jailed alongside the then police chief Pujith Jayasundera for criminal negligence over their inaction to prevent the attacks despite the availability of prior intelligence.
Testifying before the panel, Fernando said SIS chief Jayawardene was acting closely with Sirisena. It was Jayawardene's job to keep the relevant agencies informed and take appropriate action. Sirisena's media office rubbished all accusations of Fernando. The former president and his lawyer were present to observe the proceedings of the panel on Tuesday.