Former Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena and four other top officials were responsible for failing to prevent the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that killed 279 people, the Supreme Court said in a landmark decision Thursday.
The island nation’s worst terror attack since the end of its ethnic civil war saw coordinated suicide blasts on hotels and Catholic churches, which also killed up to 45 foreign nationals and wounded over 500 people.
The seven-judge bench ruled that Sirisena had been negligent in not taking measures to thwart the attack, despite solid intelligence warnings two weeks earlier.
They ordered Sirisena, 71, to pay 100 million rupees (US$273,000) to family members of victims who brought the civil case before the court.
Sri Lanka’s former police, intelligence and defense chiefs were also held responsible and instructed to compensate victims’ relatives.
It is the first time that a head of state in Sri Lanka has been held responsible for failing to prevent a terror attack.
Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has regularly criticixed the government’s investigation into the Easter Sunday bombings and petitioned the United Nations for an international probe.
A local jihadist group was blamed for the attack but authorities failed to identify the masterminds.
Sri Lanka suffered through countless plane hijackings, bomb blasts and civilian massacres during its bruising, decades-long civil war.
The conflict ended when government troops crushed the separatist Tamil Tigers guerrilla force during a no-holds-barred offensive in 2009 during which up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the campaign’s final weeks.