July 9, 2019 / 1:14 PM / 9 days ago

Sri Lanka police chief, ex-defence secretary released on bail in Easter attacks case

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s police chief and former defence secretary were released on bail on Tuesday, a week after they were arrested over allegations that they failed to prevent the Easter Day bomb attacks that killed more than 250 people.

FILE PHOTO: Sri Lankan army soldiers patrol on a road while other soldiers search houses during a special cordon and search operation conducted by the military in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo and suburbs, five weeks after Easter Sunday bomb attacks, in Mattegoda, Sri Lanka May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Colombo magistrates’ court granted their release and will hear the case on July 22, Anuja Premaratne, who is representing both the accused, told Reuters.

The Criminal Investigation Department last week arrested Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara and former secretary to the Ministry of Defence Hemasiri Fernando while they were both receiving treatment in hospital. The two were remanded in custody a day later.

Attorney General Dappula de Livera had ordered their arrest last week and urged the acting police chief to bring charges against the two, including for “crimes against humanity”.

Jayasundara and Fernando denied the allegations when they appeared before a parliamentary committee investigating the attacks on churches and luxury hotels.

They are the first two state officials to be arrested for failing to prevent the attacks, claimed by the militant group Islamic State. The bombings took place despite repeated warnings from Indian intelligence that an attack was imminent.

President Maithripala Sirisena has accused Fernando and Jayasundara of failing to act on an April 4 intelligence report about possible attacks. The suicide bombers struck on April 21.

Jayasundara, the first serving police chief to be arrested, told a parliamentary committee last month that the president had asked him to take the blame for the bombings and resign, promising him a diplomatic posting in return.

Jayasundara refused to quit and was later asked to go on compulsory leave, with his deputy standing in for him.

Fernando, who resigned as defence secretary, told the committee that Sirisena had given instructions to keep political rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe out of all security council meetings where sources have said the warnings were discussed. The defence secretary reports to the president, who heads the Defence Ministry.

Sirisena has not publicly addressed the accusations but said after the testimonies last month that he would not accept the committee’s conclusions.

Writing by Aditi Shah; Edited by Martin Howell and Nick Macfie

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