Sri Lankan authorities arrest Muslim lawmaker over Easter Sunday blasts

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo

Authorities in Sri Lanka have arrested a prominent Muslim politician and his brother on for alleged links to the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist bombings that killed 269 people.

Police arrested Rishad Bathiudeen, an opposition member of parliament, and his brother, Reyaj Bathiudeen, for allegedly “aiding and abetting the suicide bombers,” on April 24, reported Associated Press.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said the brothers were arrested based on direct, circumstantial, and “scientific” evidence.

Authorities have earlier tagged two local Muslim groups that were linked to the so-called Islamic State of having a hand on the blast at two Catholic churches, a Protestant church, and three tourist hotels.

Rushdhie Habeeb, a lawyer representing Bathiudeen, called the arrests politically motivated.

“No reasons for the arrest had been given at the time of their arrest by those who conducted the midnight raid,” said the lawyer, AP reported.

Habeeb said the arrest aims to “punish the political leadership of the Muslims … for the dastardly acts of some Muslim youths who were widely alleged as having been used as pawns by foreign powers.”

The arrests came amid growing demands for justice by Sri Lanka’s Catholic leaders and community on the second anniversary of the attacks last week.

Last month, Sri Lankan Catholics also attended Mass dressed in black in a silent “Black Sunday” protest.

Although most of those linked to the attacks have been arrested, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo insisted the bombings couldn’t have been planned alone by the leader of the bombers.

The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who came to power later in 2019, is under pressure to find the mastermind of the attacks.

His government accused an Islamic cleric arrested soon after the attacks of being the organizer, but the claim has not been accepted by Catholic Church leaders.

Cardinal Ranjith accused a presidential commission that investigated the attacks on focusing on the failures by those in power in preventing the bombings instead of on finding the people who were directly responsible.

Both Muslims and Catholics are minorities in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists make up 70 percent of the population. Muslims, who make up nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people, have faced increased attacks from majority Sinhala Buddhist hardliners over the past decade. - LiCAS.news