Two years after bombings in Sri Lanka killed hundreds at several churches and hotels on Easter, police on Saturday arrested a former cabinet minister and his brother for alleged links to the bombings. Their attorney claimed the arrests were politically motivated.
Rishad Bathiudeen, who leads an opposition party in the Sri Lankan Parliament and formerly served in the cabinet, and his brother Reyaj were arrested in Colombo April 24 for allegedly “aiding and abetting the suicide bombers who committed the Easter Sunday carnage,” police spokesman Ajith Rohana said, according to the Associated Press. The brothers were not yet officially charged, but Rohana said there was direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, and “scientific” evidence for their involvement in the attacks.
“They were arrested after the scrutiny of bank accounts, check transactions and communication lines,” Rohana said, reported by the Indian newspaper The Hindu.
On April 21, 2019, nine suicide bombers targeted two Catholic churches, a Protestant church, four hotels, and a housing complex almost simultaneously. The church bombings occured in the middle of Easter Sunday services. The bombings killed more than 260 people and injured more than 500.
Two Sri Lankan groups who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group have been blamed for the attacks.
Foreign intelligence warned the government ahead of the bombings, but a power struggle and a communication breakdown between the then-president and prime minister reportedly led to a failure to coordinate a security response.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Columbo has been an outspoken advocate for further investigations into the bombings. Some critics of the government’s investigation fear that corruption or negligence has prevented the prosecutions of collaborators.
On Saturday, Rishad Bathiudeen posted to Facebook that police were present outside his house since the early morning and were “attempting to arrest me without a charge.”
“They have already arrested my brother. I have been in Parliament, and have cooperated with all lawful authorities until now. This is unjust,” he said.
His attorney, Rushdie Habeeb, said the arrests were politically motivated. Habeeb said the arrests aimed to “punish the political leadership of the Muslims, which had nothing to do with (April 21), for the dastardly acts of some Muslim youths who were widely alleged as having been used as pawns by foreign powers.”
Bathiudeen served as the country’s Minister of Industry and Commerce, and now leads a minority Muslim party that is part of the main opposition political party. His brother Riyaj was arrested in May 2020 for his alleged contacts with suicide bombers, and was released on bail in October.