Despite four years having elapsed since the Easter Sunday attacks of April 21, 2019 the country is no closer to finding out who masterminded the cruel terrorist attack which resulted in the death of 272 persons as well as caused injuries to over 500 others.
While the victims, and indeed the whole country, await the results of the probe into this horrible tragedy the investigations if any, have meandered along with little or no signs of progress. There has been no signs of urgency on the part of the State law enforcement machinery to search out the mastermind (s) behind these attacks.
From the information that is in the public domain it is very apparent that there is little or no progress in the investigations so far. In fact the only time the investigations took place with some speed was in the two weeks immediately after the attacks.
Despite the criminal failure on the part of the law enforcement agencies to take preventive action even after receiving intelligence of the impending attacks, the Police and armed forces thereafter moved very quickly to dismantle the network that carried out the attacks. The initial arrests were made within hours of the incidents and within two weeks the authorities were able to announce to the country that ninety nine percent of the suspects had been arrested.
However thereafter little or no arrests have been made nor has any new information come to light as a result of investigations. The sense of urgency that should characterise a caring State desirous of unravelling the truth behind this national tragedy has been absent from the investigations.
There have been many leads that have not been followed up and lines of investigations not pursued.
The most recent example of such failure in investigations is the case of Sarah Pulasthini Rajendra aka Sarah Jesmine, wife of the suicide bomber Atchchi Muhammadu Hastun, who is alleged to have carried out the blast at St. Sebastian’s Church, at Katuwapitiya, Katana.
It is obvious to anyone following the trajectory of investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks that Sarah Pulasthini is a key figure in unravelling the truth behind the tragedy. Sarah Pulasthini was closely associated with Zahran Hashim’s wife Abdul Cader Fatima Hadiya and would therefore have been privy to a great deal of information relating to the lead up to the attacks.
She was said to have been at the safe house in Sainthamaruthu where the occupants including Zahran’s wife were present when several explosions took place a few days after the April 21 attacks. Two sets of DNA tests conducted on the remains of the bodies at the safe house however, excluded the possibility of Sarah Pulasthini having died in the blasts.
Lending credence to the view that Sarah Pulasthini survived the Sainthamaruthu blasts was the testimony of Zahran Hashim’s wife, Hadiya, to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday blasts, that she heard Sarah Pulasthini’s voice, after the blasts.
Hadiya’s evidence is referred to in the first volume of the final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry ( page 223) as follows: “The COI received evidence of two witnesses who testified that Sarah was seen alive after the Easter Sunday attacks and had fled to India. In her testimony, Hadiya said that after the blasts at Sainthamaruthu, on April 26, 2019, she lost consciousness. After she regained consciousness, she could hear the voice of a woman which sounded like Sarah. The DNA analysis, with the mother of Sarah, did not establish that Sarah had died in the blast. In view of this testimony, the COI recommends that investigations into Sarah be continued.”
Adding to the belief that Sarah Pulasthini was still alive was the arrest of the Traffic OIC of Kalawanchikudy Police Chief Inspector Nagoor Thambi Abu Bakr. He was detained and kept in custody for allegedly helping Sarah Pulasthini to flee the country and escape to India. The Batticaloa High Court granted bail to Chief Inspector Aboobucker who had been arrested on July 13, 2020, after he filed a fundamental rights application. The law enforcement officer had been held in custody for a period of 32 months.
There is no evidence to show that the Sri Lankan authorities made any attempt to pursue the matter with the Indian authorities to ascertain whether Sarah Pulasthini had indeed escaped to India. The fact that the original intelligence of the impending attacks came from Indian sources should have alerted investigators to pursuing any possible link that Sarah Pulasthini may have had to Indian sources.
The latest in the Sarah Pulasthini saga is the announcement by the Police that they have now conducted a third DNA test with regard to her and found that she was among the dead after the blasts at the Sainthamaruthu safe house.
The Sri Lanka Police in a statement dated March 29, 2023 said that DNA tests were carried out for the third time on the tissue samples that were obtained for the investigations by Judicial Medical Officers, Detectives from the Criminal Investigations Department, and the Government Analysts Department.
Sri Lanka Police said that according to the report, it can now be confirmed that Pulasthini Mahendran also known as Sara Jasmine was killed when a suicide bomb was detonated inside a house in Sainthamaruthu on April 26, 2019.
The findings on the third DNA report has been rejected by Father Cyril Gamini Fernando on behalf of the Catholic Church. A media Commentator likened the Police action to repeatedly sitting for an examination until one obtains the result that one wants.
The Police will have to justify to Court why they had resorted to a third DNA testing despite the conclusive nature of the previous two testings. The reliability of the third DNA report will undoubtedly be subject to close scrutiny when it is presented to Court.
The Sarah Pulasthini saga is only one aspect of the investigations that is questionable. There are many other shortcomings that need to be addressed.
In fact Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha was constrained to admit in a TV talk show that there was confusion with regard to the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks. He subsequently requested the Police to question former Attorney General Dappula de Livera with regard to his statement that the Easter Sunday attacks was the result of a conspiracy.
The failure to make progress in the investigations is a damning indictment on the system of justice in the country and the Government needs to take remedial steps to hasten the process.
It is time that the Government presents a monthly statement to Parliament on the status of the investigations so that the country in general and the victims in particular are kept abreast of developments.