Resigned Sri Lankan Muslim politicians return to government

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Four Sri Lankan Muslim ministers who resigned from their Cabinet portfolios after the Easter attacks that killed more than 250 people have rejoined the government after an investigation cleared them of having any links with the local Islamic militant group that carried out the bombings.

The ministers took their oaths before President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday night, according to a statement from the president’s office.

The four were among nine Cabinet and junior ministers who stepped down from their posts last month to enable the government to investigate allegations against Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen that he had links to the extremists who carried out the attacks. The Muslim ministers resigned en masse to express their solidarity with Rishad.

Rishad said in a statement Tuesday that 30 people filed 300 complaints against him and that “many were due to jealousy.” He said police announced that “their investigations have not found any evidence linking me to the terrorists.”

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The resignations of the ministers did not affect the government’s stability because they continued to support the government as backbench lawmakers.

A month after their resignation, the government, with the support of Muslim lawmakers, comfortably defeated a no-confidence motion in Parliament against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government that accused it of failing to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks.  

But their resignations hampered a move by the opposition to bring a no-confidence motion against Rishad, who opposition lawmakers accused of providing support to the Muslim extremists. Rishad denied the allegation.

The Easter attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels by seven suicide bombers from a local Muslim group, National Thowheed Jammath, was the deadliest violence by Islamic State group-linked militants in South Asia.

In the wake of the attacks, dozens of shops and homes belonging to minority Muslims have been burned. Muslims have also been harassed in public places and subjected to hate comments.

Sri Lankan leaders and the security establishment came under fire for not acting on near-specific intelligence information on possible attacks on churches. The government has acknowledged that some intelligence units were aware of possible attacks weeks before the bombings.

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