Senior Sri Lanka officials ordered detained over bombing

Bharatha Mallawarachi
Associated Press
Sri Lankan police chief Pujith Jayasundara, center, leaves after an inspection at St. Anthony's church in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019.

Colombo, Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan magistrate ordered the detention of the country’s suspended police chief and its former defense secretary on Wednesday, a day after they were arrested for alleged negligence leading to Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people at churches and hotels.

Colombo chief magistrate Lanka Jayaratna ordered the two held until July 9.

Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and police chief Pujith Jayasundara were arrested on Tuesday at hospitals where they had been admitted. Both are still in the hospitals under the supervision of prison officials.

Local media reported that Fernando had suffered chest pains. There was no information about Jayasundara’s health status. Access to them has been restricted.

After the April 21 suicide attacks, the government acknowledged it had received intelligence reports about the plot beforehand but failed to act on them.

Fernando resigned after the blasts and Jayasundara was suspended.

On Monday, prosecutors asked police to explain why they had not arrested the two former officials despite being instructed to do so.

Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019.

The attorney general’s department said in a letter to acting police chief C.D. Wickremaratne that it had ordered Fernando and Jayasundara to be named as suspects and produced before a court because a presidential commission of inquiry found grounds to charge them with dereliction of duties and criminal negligence.

The letter said the allegations fall within “grave crimes against humanity” under international law.

Police had reportedly sought to question Fernando and Jayasundara but did not because they had been hospitalized.

Both Fernando and Jayasundara appeared before a parliamentary committee inquiring into the blasts and described the security failures. President Maithripala Sirisena, however, opposed the parliamentary committee conducting a separate inquiry while court cases were being heard on the blasts.

Fernando told the committee that Sirisena wasn’t easily accessible for discussions. Jayasundara said Sirisena asked him after the blasts to resign to take responsibility and promised he would have his name cleared in any subsequent inquiry.

Jayasundara also said Sirisena had asked him not to attend National Security Council meetings since last October, when Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a power struggle that triggered a seven-week political crisis. Wickremesinghe was subsequently reinstated by the Supreme Court.