Colombo: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Italy has sparked a controversy after the country’s Catholic church Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith claimed the trip was an attempt to “mislead” the Vatican about the probe into 2019 Easter Sunday attacks that killed over 270 people, including 11 Indians.

Rajapaksa left for Italy on Friday morning to attend an international event to be held in Bologna, officials said.

Rajapaksa is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the opening session of the international symposium to be held at the University of Bologna.

The event will also be attended by the prime minister of Italy Mario Draghi.

Cardinal Ranjith at a press conference two days ago slammed the visit.

Ranjith alleged that Rajapaksa was due to meet Pope Francis during the visit and would try to mislead the Vatican on the ongoing investigations on the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.

“When there is a deadly pandemic in the country, we’re seeing a conspiracy being attempted to cover up the Easter Sunday attack, Cardinal Ranjith told a media briefing.

I condemn this trip [to the Vatican] because they are attempting a coverup and trying to mislead the Pope and the international community,” he said.

The local church has branded the investigation as a cover-up and a sham. The church says there was no transparency in the investigations, which aim only to serve a political purpose.

Nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) linked to ISIS carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21, 2019.

Cardinal Ranjith has repeatedly said that the investigation into the blasts was not being conducted properly. He has said he believes the real conspirators are still at large and has hinted at alleged attempts to shield the masterminds.

President Rajapaksa’s government had denied any inadequacy in the investigations into the attacks.

Following Cardinal’s allegations, the foreign ministry in a statement denied that Rajapaksa was to meet the Pope.

Rajapaksa never sought an audience with Pope Francis during his visit to the Vatican, the Foreign Ministry said.

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