COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lankan police arrested their top commander and a former defence chief Tuesday over alleged failures to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 258 people, spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.
The arrests came a day after the chief state prosecutor said the alleged negligence of the two senior officials amounted to “grave crimes against humanity”, and they should also face murder charges.
Pujith Jayasundara is the most senior police official to be arrested in the 152-year history of the force, which was established by British colonial rulers in 1867.
Both Jayasundara and former defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando were undergoing treatment at two separate hospitals when they were taken into custody by plain-clothed officers of the Criminal Investigations Department, Gunasekera said.
They will remain in hospital, but detectives will formally report their arrest to a magistrate to decide what further action should be taken.
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, the chief state prosecutor, said Monday that the two men failed to act on advance warnings of the deadly Easter Sunday attacks, which were blamed on a local jihadi group.
They should be brought before a magistrate for their “criminal negligence” de Livera said in a letter to the acting police chief Chandana Wickramaratne.
“Their negligence amounts to what is known under international law to be grave crimes against humanity,” he wrote.
Another nine senior police officers have been named by the attorney-general as suspects who should be prosecuted for their role in the security lapses.
Indian intelligence officials said they shared information about the targets of the Easter Sunday attacks — gleaned from a jihadist in Indian custody — but Sri Lankan authorities failed to take the threats seriously.
The first Indian warning was given on April 4, more than two-and-a-half weeks before the April 21 bombings, which were later claimed by the Islamic State Group.
Local Muslim groups also alerted both police and intelligence units to a potential threat posed by radical cleric Zahran Hashim, who led the suicide bombings.
Jayasundara and Fernando have previously testified before a parliamentary inquiry, where they accused President Maithripala Sirisena of failing to follow established protocols in assessing threats to national security.
They also alleged that Sirisena – who is also minister of defence as well as law and order –did not take the threats seriously.
Sirisena, who insists he had no warning of the attacks, has objected to the parliamentary investigation and ordered police not to co-operate.
Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency since the attack.