Sri Lanka begins trials connected to 2019 Easter Sunday bombings

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The Sri Lankan court began the first of three trials involving the bombings that killed around 270 people.

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A Sri Lankan court has begun the first of three trials involving the bombings that killed nearly 270 people on the island in 2019, amid appeals for greater accountability from victim aid groups.

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In the trial that began on Monday, former national police chief Pujit Jayasundara has been accused of failing to act on repeated intelligence warnings of a possible terror attack.

A total of 855 charges of murder and attempt to murder were read out as Jayasundara stood in the dock behind the courtroom. His lawyer said that a total of 1,215 witnesses have been listed to give evidence, but not all can be called.

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“Our position is the former police chief is not guilty. He did not knowingly aid or assist in the attacks and there was no lapse on his part which led to the attacks,” said lawyer Ranjit Dehiwala.

Former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, at the time the top official in the Defense Ministry, faces similar charges in a trial that begins later on Monday. Neither he nor his lawyer could be contacted for comment.

Both the youths are out on bail.

The third trial to prosecute 24 people accused of perpetrating the attacks begins on Tuesday.

Police filed more than 23,000 charges against the suspects, including conspiracy to murder, aiding and abetting the attacks, and collecting arms and ammunition. The group also includes Mohamed Naufar, who officials say is the mastermind of the attacks and linked to the Islamic State.

Three churches and three hotels were targeted in a string of attacks on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, killing 267 people, including at least 45 foreign nationals.

Nearly 500 people were injured in the worst attacks in Sri Lanka’s turbulent history, mostly from the island’s minority Christian community.

Al Jazeera’s Minel Fernandez, reporting from the court in Colombo, said the trial had been adjourned and would resume in January to allow time for translation of the indictments into Tamil, a language the defendants can understand.

Fernandez said the family members of the accused are “very concerned for the fate of their loved ones” and dismissed the charges against them. Some alleged that their relatives were forced to confess and even tortured.

However, “the government maintains that these are the people who assisted the suicide bombers who carried out the six deadly suicide attacks,” Fernandez said.

On Sunday, dozens of Catholic community members held protests and offered flowers at a series of events to remember those lost in the attacks.

Participants appealed to the government to support the survivors and ensure that trials are allowed to proceed without political interference.

“We want real justice out of this process. This is what we are appealing to the authorities to give. We have been waiting for a long time and we want the real people responsible for what happened,” said Eranga Gunasekera, a member of the victim aid group, during a remembrance ceremony held in Colombo.

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