Easter attack probe continues despite president's objection

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan lawmaker said Wednesday that a parliamentary committee will continue questioning security and intelligence officials about lapses that preceded Easter Sunday bomb attacks by Islamic extremists, despite objections by the country's president.

Jayampathi Wickramaratne said the interviews will be held behind closed doors if they are deemed sensitive to security.

President Maithripala Sirisena told top police officials last week that he is against the committee discussing sensitive details in the presence of the media, and that it should not investigate lapses while court cases are being heard on the same issues.

Sirisena also promised to protect police officers who do not attend the inquiries.

The committee resumed its work Tuesday and questioned a Muslim politician and a cleric.

Sirisena's objection came after some officials hinted at shortcomings by the president, who is also the defense minister and minister of police.

More than 250 people were killed in six suicide attacks on April 21. Seven suicide bombers were killed in the attacks on three churches and three tourist hotels. Another person killed himself after his device failed at a fourth hotel and a woman blew herself up when police surrounded her home. About 500 people were wounded.

Hemasiri Fernando, the former secretary to the Defense Ministry who resigned after the blasts, told the committee that Sirisena as his minister wasn't easily accessible for private discussions. Pujith Jayasundara, who was police chief and was suspended after the blasts, said Sirisena asked him to resign to take responsibility for the blasts and promised he would have his name cleared in any subsequent inquiry.

Jayasundara also said Sirisena had asked him not to attend the National Security Council meetings since last October, when Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a power struggle that triggered a seven-week political crisis. Wickremesinghe was subsequently reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Top intelligence officer Sisira Mendis, testifying before the commission, said there were prior intelligence reports on a possible attack as early as April 9 but the National Security Council headed by the president did not meet until after the blasts. Mendis resigned a few days after testifying and it is unclear if he was asked to step down.

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