The court in Sri Lanka begins the first of three trials related to bombings that killed nearly 270 people.
A Sri Lankan court has begun the first of three hearings related to bombings that killed nearly 270 people on the island in 2019, amid a call for greater accountability from victim support groups.
In the trial that began on Monday, former national police chief Pujith Jayasundara is accused of failing to respond to repeated intelligence warnings of a possible terrorist attack.
A total of 855 charges of murder and attempted murder were read out while Jayasundara stood in the dock at the back of the courtroom. A total of 1,215 witnesses were listed to testify, but not all may be called, his attorney said.
“Our position is that the former police chief is innocent. “He did not intentionally assist or encourage the attacks and there was no omission on his part that caused the attacks,” said lawyer Ranjith Dehiwala.
Former Defense Minister Hemasiri Fernando, then the top official in the Ministry of Defense, is facing similar charges in a trial that begins later Monday. Neither he nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
Both men are out on bail.
The third trial, which involves 24 men accused of carrying out the attacks, begins on Tuesday.
Police have filed more than 23,000 charges against the suspects, including conspiracy to murder, aiding and abetting attacks and collecting weapons and ammunition. The group also includes Mohammad Naufer, who according to officials has mastered the attacks and is linked to Islamic State.
The series of attacks carried out on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, targeted three churches and three hotels, killing 267 people, including at least 45 foreign nationals.
The attacks, the worst in Sri Lanka’s turbulent history, also injured about 500 people, mostly belonging to the island’s Christian minority community.
On Sunday, dozens of Catholic community members staged rallies and laid flowers at various events organized to commemorate those lost in the attacks.
Participants called on the government to support survivors and ensure that the trials are allowed to continue without political interference.
“We want sincere justice from this process. This is what we call on the officials to deliver. We have been waiting a long time and we want the right people responsible to be held accountable for what happened, “said Eranga Gunasekera, a member of a victim support group, during a memorial service held in Colombo.