New Delhi [India], April 3 (ANI): As Easter Sunday approaches this year, it is time to take stock of the developments following the series of bomb blasts on April 21, 2019 that ripped through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, killing over 250 people and injuring hundreds.
The explosions targeted Christians at Easter Sunday church services in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, and tourists staying in luxury hotels in the capital. The toll puts the attacks on par with the deadliest atrocities since the 9/11 attacks in the United StatesThroughout the morning and afternoon, in and around the capital, Colombo, Negombo, and in the eastern city of Batticaloa, the bombs went off at churches and upscale hotels.
The world watched the mayhem unfolding in the Indian Ocean island, which was still recuperating from the 26 years of bloodshed and violence during the civil war. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
The Easter Sunday attacks exposed multiple gaps in Sri Lanka's security architecture.
Shortly after the attacks, the Sri Lankan government admitted that it failed to act on multiple warnings from intelligence agencies, including from India and the United States.
In February, an investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka called for the country's former President Maithripala Sirisena as well as senior police and intelligence officials to be prosecuted.
The commission of inquiry said that "criminal proceedings" should be brought against former President Maithripala Sirisena, who left office in November 2019, for "criminal liability on his part" over the attacks.
In March, the Sri Lankan parliament held a three-day debate on the inquiry.
Here is a timeline of the investigation into the gruesome attacks that shook the nation and the world.
April 21, 2019: A wave of deadly blasts hit Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Nine suicide bombers launched a coordinated series of attacks on three Catholic churches and three luxury hotels across Sri Lanka. Over 250 people died and many suffered injuries.
April 22, 2019: Then-President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka appointed a three-member committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to investigate the Easter Sunday bombings.
April 22, 2019: Sirisena declared a nationwide emergency, giving the military a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects - powers that were used during the civil war, but withdrawn when it ended.
April 23, 2019: Sri Lankan then-Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said in parliament that the government believed the attack was in retaliation for the Christchurch mosque shootings on March 15, 2019.
He accused National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), an extremist group, for the bombings. Wijewardene said that along with NTJ, another local group, Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim (JMI) was also believed to be involved in the attacks. "It was done by National Thowheed Jamath along with JMI," he said.
April 24, 2019: Sirisena asked security officials---the defence secretary and the national police chief--to step down.
Sirisena moved to replace then-defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando and then-national police chief Pujith Jayasundara after security forces failed to act on warnings before the Easter suicide bombings.
April 25, 2019: Hemasiri Fernando, then Sri Lanka's defence secretary, resigned following the security forces' failure to stop the deadly church and hotel attacks on Easter Sunday.
April 25, 2019: The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) released names and photos of six suspects wanted in connection over the Easter Sunday bombings, seeking public assistance.
On April 26, 2019: the Sri Lanka Army and the Special Task Force (STF) carried out a search operation in Sainthamaruthu town where three explosions and a shootout occurred when they attempted to raid a suspected hideout following a tip-off.
Three suicide bombers blew themselves up, killing nine of their family members, including three women and six children, while three other terrorists were shot dead by the soldiers. One civilian was caught in the crossfire and died, according to police, while a wounded woman and child were taken to hospital.
April 26, 2019: Sirisena said Pujith Jayasundara has resigned over failures that led to the deadly bomb attacks.
April 26, 2019: Sirisena admitted "a serious lapse" on the part of the country's defence secretary and top police official, who failed to inform him about an April 4 letter from a "friendly foreign country" warning about a possible attack.
April 27, 2019: Jayasundara refused a request by Sirisena to step down over the failure to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks. Sirisena earlier claimed that Jayasundara has resigned.
April 27, 2019: Sirisena banned two groups linked to the Easter bombings - NTJ and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim (JMI) - under emergency powers.
April 28, 2019: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India confirmed that four homes were raided in Kasaragod, and Palakkad, Kerala as part of the transnational investigation unfolding into the Easter Sunday bombings.
April 28, 2019: Then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Sri Lankan forces have killed or arrested most of those linked to the Easter suicide bombings and the country is ready to return to normality.
April 29, 2019: Sirisena named then-Deputy Inspector-General Chandana Wickramaratne as acting police chief.
May 18, 2019: Presidential Commission of Inquiry submitted its interim report. The commission was given an extension of its term until 31 May to complete the final report. Based on the interim report of the presidential commission, Attorney General Dappula de Livera instructed the Criminal Investigation Department to carry out a criminal investigation against Fernando and Jayasundera to determine if they failed to act on intelligence warnings about the attack.
May 22, 2019: A Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was appointed to probe the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks and incidents in its aftermath by the Speaker of the Parliament.
May 29, 2019: During testimony before the parliamentary committee, Sri Lankan intelligence chief Sisira Mendis said security council meetings were irregular, making it difficult to properly protect the island nation. He said that when he brought up warnings of the attacks during a meeting on April 9, director of the State Intelligence Service Nilantha Jayawardena, who has a direct link to the president, told him Sirisena had already been briefed.
June 6, 2019: The suspended police chief, Pujith Jayasundara, said that Sirisena asked him to resign to take responsibility for the blasts and ensure that he will have his name cleared in any subsequent inquiry. Meanwhile, Fernando, the former secretary to the Defense Ministry who resigned after the blasts, told the committee that Sirisena as his minister wasn't easily accessible for private discussions.
June 7 2019: President Sirisena called an emergency Cabinet meeting and protest the PSC probe. He ordered that the PSC be terminated. He was critical of the PSC for summering intelligence and police officers. He had ordered no public officer to appear for summons issued by the PSC. Following Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis's statement at the PSC to the effect that President Sirisena knew about the warnings of an impending attack, Sirisena sacked Mendis within hours.
June 8, 2019: Sirisena fired Mendis after he suggested that the president was forewarned about the deadly Easter bombings.
June 10, 2019: The final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry was presented to Sirisena by the commission.
July 2, 2019: Jayasundara and Fernando arrested over their alleged failures to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings.
July 9, 2019: A Sri Lankan Court rejected prosecution demands to prosecute Jayasundara and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando to face murder charges for failing to prevent Easter Sunday Bombings.
September 21, 2019: Sirisena appointed a five-member committee to investigate allegations of intelligence inputs being ignored and related errors that led to the Easter Sunday bombings.
October 23, 2019: The PSC filed its report in which the commission accused Maithripala Sirisena of "actively undermining" government and security systems, leading to serious lapses ahead of the Easter terror attacks.
In November, seven months after the gruesome attacks, Gotabaya Rajapaksa defeated Sirisena and became president of the island nation. President Rajapaksa, who pledged an independent probe in the incident during his election campaign, continued with the same panel appointed by Sirisena after assuming office.
Feburary 23, 2020: The new Sri Lankan government appointed a six-member team to help police collect authentic information and expedite an ongoing presidential probe into the devastating Easter Sunday terror attack.
September 26, 2020: Jayasundera testified before the presidential inquiry commission probing the attacks and said Sirisena should take responsibility for the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.
January 8, 2021: The United States Justice Department announced that it has charged three Sri Lankan nationals for supporting an Islamic State cell responsible for the 2019 Easter attacks in Sri Lanka.
Feburary 24, 2021: In its report, the commission of inquiry said that the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka said "criminal proceedings" should be brought against former President Maithripala Sirisena, who left office in November 2019, for "criminal liability on his part" over the attacks.
March 10, 2021: A three-day parliamentary debate on the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka commenced in parliament.
According to the government, so far 676 people have been arrested in connection with the 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka. Of these, 202 have been remanded, while another 66 are being detained and under investigation.
Meanwhile, Sirisena denied any prior knowledge personally but said intelligence information had been received by the authorities before the attacks.
Sri Lanka's Catholic church has demanded justice in the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings.
In a statement on March 29, Archbishop, Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said every individual named in the presidential probe panel's report issued last month must be arrested.
"It is absolutely necessary to prosecute without hesitation all those political leaders and officials, irrespective of the positions they held, for their failure to prevent the attack," Ranjith said.
Last month, Sri Lankan Roman Catholics attended Mass dressed in black with prayers and protests calling for justice for those killed in coordinated suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday two years ago. (ANI)