Sri Lankan government says decision made under Prevention of Terrorism Act and anyone linked to outlawed groups faces up to 20 years in jail. Seven attackers pledging allegiance to Daesh hit churches on Easter Sunday in 2019, killing 279 people.

Catholic devotees and Buddhist monks demand justice for the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attack victims outside the St Anthony's church in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 7, 2021.
Catholic devotees and Buddhist monks demand justice for the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attack victims outside the St Anthony's church in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 7, 2021. (AP)

Sri Lanka has banned 11 Muslim organisations, including Daesh and Al Qaeda, a week ahead of the second anniversary of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings which killed 279 people.

Anyone linked to the groups – the other nine of which are local religious and social organisations – faces up to 20 years in jail, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a gazette notification issued on Wednesday.

Ahead of the anniversary, the country's Roman Catholics had threatened to take to the streets over what they say is the government's failure to act against those responsible for the attacks.

Some of the groups banned had previously been linked to the lead bomber.

The move, made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, was "in furtherance of the efforts of the government of Sri Lanka made in good faith for the purpose of ensuring the continuance of peace within the country," Rajapaksa said.

The seven Sri Lankans who attacked three churches and three hotels in April 2019 had pledged allegiance to the Daesh leader at the time, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

However, investigators said they had found no evidence of direct links to Daesh.

Two local groups said to be directly linked to the attacks were banned in 2019, but a presidential investigation into the bombings wanted similar Islamic groups outlawed too.

All seven bombers died and no other suspects have been charged.

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Outrage over government mishandling

Political infighting between the then-president and prime minister resulting in a communications breakdown and lapse of security coordination was said to have enabled the attacks despite foreign intelligence warnings.

The investigation found that then president Maithripala Sirisena and his intelligence leaders were warned by India about the attacks 17 days before they were staged.

The head of the Roman Catholic church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, has demanded swift action not just against those responsible, but against the politicians and officials who failed to stop them.

He said the report had concentrated more on the failures of the then-government in preventing the attacks despite early warnings, rather than finding out the handlers of the groups accused of carrying out the bombings.

“No one who wants to promote hatred and religious strife will receive our support. We believe there should be unity and brotherhood among different ethnic and religious groups all over the world," Ranjith said last month.

The United States has filed action against three Sri Lankans over the bombings. Five US nationals were among 45 foreigners killed in the blasts.

The inquiry, whose report was released earlier this year, also recommended that Buddhist organisations accused of instigating inter-communal unrest before and after the bombings be banned, but none were named in Wednesday's decree.

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Source: AFP