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HALA GORANI TONIGHT
State of Emergency Going into Effect in Sri Lanka; At Least 290 People Killed in Easter Sunday Bombings; Hotel Witness Said, At First, I Thought It Was A Loud Thunderstorm; Comedian Wins Ukraine Presidential Election; U.S. Will Impose Sanctions on Countries That Buy Iranian Oil. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired April 22, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London, I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones in for Hala Gorani.
Tonight, Sri Lanka on edge. Nearly 300 people are now known to have died. The government is apologizing for intelligence failures. Also tonight, I
speak to a senior U.S. State Department official as the Trump administration announces all countries importing Iranian oil will be
subject to U.S. sanctions and what's next for Ukraine as it elects a television comedian to lead the country. We have more on Volodymyr
Zelensky's stunning victory.
Our top story now, it is almost midnight in Sri Lanka and a state of emergency is about to go into effect. The situation there is intense and
the fear of possible additional attacks far from over.
This was the scene earlier today near one of the churches which was targeted on Easter Sunday. Police used a controlled explosion to destroy a
bomb found inside a suspected bomber's van and a new video is emerging of the man suspected to be one of the responsible for killing at least 290
people. You see him here walking into one of the churches wearing a backpack before the blast. Sri Lankan state TV says he died in the
This as the country vows to investigate why repeated warnings of terrorist attacks fell through the cracks. For more on the investigation, we have
the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Sri Lankan Embassy for the United States. He joins us from Washington DC. Thank you for joining us on the
program. And our condolence for the loss of life in your country.
I want to ask you first of all about this extraordinary government apology for missing the warnings, the threats of a possible terrorist attack. How
do you think that could have happened, the miscommunication was so bad that these things wouldn't have been followed up?
SARATH DISSANAYAKE, DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION, U.S. SRI LANKAN EMBASSY: If there had been any intelligence lapses, they would be looking at it. That
is all I can say for the moment because hardly 24 hours have lapsed since the incident happened. It's too early to talk about anything to that
JONES: We have had an apology from the government which suggests some responsibility at least for these attacks taking place.
DISSANAYAKE: That's why I said. They will come up with something that will be -- explaining the situation, what you want to clarify.
JONES: We are still awaiting a confirmation of who may be responsible for these -- this series of atrocities throughout the country. There's been a
suggestion that it could be a local Islamic extremist group but also a further suggestion that such a group would not have been capable of
coordinating an attack such as this without help from an international network. What is your understanding of the potential perpetrators and
other wider links on a global scale?
DISSANAYAKE: The report points at localized groups for the carnage that has occurred, but we now have some sort of -- individuals who say there
have been international connections with a terrorist group that has taken part in these cities.
JONES: Can you be more specific as to --
DISSANAYAKE: No. I must tell you, it is too early. Investigations are being conducted and it is too early to -- for me to speculate on anything
JONES: We also understand as you say, it's very early on in the investigation and we know that Sri Lankan authorities have sought
international advice and help. The FBI is there helping with the ongoing investigation. As far as Sri Lankans and foreigners in the country right
now are concerned, there have been curfews in place, the state of emergency is about to go into effect. Should the people there trust this government
to be able to manage the fallout from such an attack?
DISSANAYAKE: If you ask me, you know, the conflict, there have been no violence whatsoever or the last ten years. This is something that has
taken place all of a sudden. Given the scale of the attacks, they were well coordinated, they are making sure the public is safeguarded.
[14:05:00] They have potentially extended medical assistance, we have put adequate precautions to ensure extended medical assistance, we have put
extended medical assistance, we have put adequate precautions to ensure all of those who have been affected, they are taken care of, also the dead.
Things have been very well managed. What is also important, this is also in the weeks of Easter Sunday celebrations, which is been a normal
celebration for any Sri Lankan.
These all happening on a very important day for Catholic community and most were in church when the terrorist attacks happened. This is targeted
innocent civilians. Sri Lankans have been -- having their Easter breakfast. You can imagine, the scale of it and the -- we didn't really
didn't have enough time.
JONES: The country obviously still in a period of shock and deep, deep mourning as is the rest of the world. Many thanks for your time. We
DISSANAYAKE: Thank you very much for having me.
JONES: Will Ripley is following developments for us in the ground in Sri Lanka. He's in Colombo. He joins me with the very latest now. Will,
bring us up to speed with not just the attacks, but the fear now of reprisal attacks, of more explosives that have been found.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Hannah. There's a significant fear that they haven't found everything and everyone
yet. When you have 86 detonators turn up at a bus station and a pipe bomb defused at the airport and a suspicious van that they blew up, the
authorities say this is a new terror network that they weren't aware of.
They were warned about it by the United States and India that an attack was imminent. And they acknowledged they did nothing about it and they've
apologized and have pledged to, you know, now try to make it right. But how can you make it right when you have churches full of people, where
people with backpacks were able to walk in, nobody was looking for these people.
Six suspects were spotted walking into these churches, and high-end hotels, including the Shangri-La, and the Cinnamon Grand which is about a hundred
meters that way. And so now this question is, if this is a terror network, who else is out there? Did they -- who is helping these people assemble
these bombs and are they still on the ground? You have two dozen suspects arrested right now, but is that everyone?
Obviously, authorities don't think so. They continue to have this city of Colombo on lockdown. This is normally a bustling thoroughfare, but we're
seeing military vehicles like that, heavily armed soldiers. Other than that, the streets are dead quiet as we pan down towards the Shangri-La, one
of the hotels targeted that is shut down just like this street, just like this city.
People don't want to be in public areas because they're afraid of a return to their 26-year civil war in Sri Lanka that ended ten years ago. But this
wave of suicide bombings is reminding people what life was like here for so long. It's a life they don't want to go back to. And the events have
jolted them back and forced them to go back to that nightmarish existence. The government is out. They're declaring a state of emergency.
And that's going to give the government a lot of authority to try to track down suspects, investigate -- some police officers were killed when they
were raiding a House. This quiet out here, it gives people somewhat of a sense of security to see these police officers, but there's a lot of fear
that they haven't caught everybody and people are going to wonder what's next?
JONES: Will, what about the fear, not just there might be more attacks, but fear that they can't quite trust their own government to get a grip on
this as well, particularly as we're hearing now that so much of the social media is being shut down, people are going to be struggling to communicate
and find out what's what.
[14:10:01] RIPLEY: There are a couple of issues that are going to come up in terms of trusting the government here. There were warnings ahead of
time. The United States and India both told the Sri Lankan government that an attack was eminent and there was no alert level raised why didn't the
government tell people? That is raising trust issues. And then you have Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp and other apps that people use to share
photos and information shut down.
The government says they're doing that to control the flow of information that could be used to incite violence. They've had -- violence has been an
issue in Sri Lanka and they've shutdown social media in the past.
They've shut down photos in the past. It causes these people to fight in the street, that's what the government says they're trying to avoid this
time around, the spread of false information. It also makes it hard for people to track down their loved ones and raises questions about if things
have been censored.
Even though the government has given press conferences and has apologized for not warning people, not giving people any sense that they should be
alert on Easter Sunday after they were warned an attack was eminent, but there's no one looking for anyone suspicious. So no one noticed these men
wearing backpacks. Six suicide bombers identified so far. Never raised a red flag for people.
JONES: I want to ask you as well about the many foreign nationals, not only those who were caught up in the bombings, but people who are enjoying
the beautiful country that is Sri Lanka. What kind of support are they getting from their own consulates and also from the Sri Lankan authorities
in order to try and get home?
RIPLEY: Well, I can tell you at the airport, it was quite a scene. Crowded with people, the roads near the airport were the most crowded roads
that I've seen in the city since we've arrived with a lot of people trying to get in and trying to get on flights out.
They're able to reach out to their local governments. U.S. citizens, they have been warned by the state department that there is a terrorist group
here that could be plotting more attacks and urging U.S. citizens to stay away from area that is could be targeted which is government buildings,
obviously any tourist type area, shopping malls, that sort of thing, and then of course people who need help finding loved ones.
There was a story of a fellow in Colombo, and they called his phone and they knew he didn't survive. It's heartbreaking and difficult when you
have Facebook shutdown, which is a way a lot of people try to get in touch with loved ones, it isn't working. There's still a lot of questions.
JONES: We appreciate your reporting on this. Thank you.
We are hearing from some of the survivors of these blasts, one family overslept, and that may have saved their lives. A short time ago Robyn
Curnow spoke to one family. He was vacationing in Colombo with his wife and infant daughter. They were
staying at the Shangri-La hotel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AKSHAT SARAF, WITNESS: At the time of the explosion, three of us were in a room which was is Shangri-La, we were just getting ready to go downstairs
for breakfast when I heard the first loud explosion. I possibly thought it was a -- probably the loudest thunderstorm I had ever heard of. A few
seconds later was when we heard the second explosion and that's when I thought I appreciate investigate as to where the sound is coming from.
So I looked outside my room and I was trying to see if there was any structural damage, but from the 25th floor I could not see any debris
falling from the building. So I was confused at that time. This was probably two or three seconds after the second explosion.
[14:15:01] But I did notice that there were a group of individuals who started gathering towards the roadside and looking forwards the building,
and that's when I realized that probably the sound, the explosive noise did come from a building. And I asked my wife to pick up the passport and we
immediately left the room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: One survivor there of the Sri Lankan bombing.
Still to come, we will be returning to this, our top story, the terrible bombings in Sri Lanka, we'll hear from a priest when one of those bombs
exploded. His words are coming up.
And also, no joke, Ukraine elects a comedian as the country's next President. His only experience, playing a President on TV.
JONES: Ukraine has elected a new President, comedian and TV star, Volodymyr Zelensky, the country's election commission says he won more than
73 percent of the vote but the count is ongoing. Petro Poroshenko took a tough stance on neighboring Russia. He has conceded the race saying his
victory will please the Kremlin. Phil Black joins us now from the Ukraine capital of Kiev. Behind the Kremlin walls will President Putin be rubbing
his hands in glee?
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a common theory among Zelensky's critics, Hannah, but officially the chrome and says that is too soon to say
too soon to form an opinion. They don't have an idea just yet what sort of president Zelensky will be.
And there are many in Ukraine who share that assessment even among those who voted for him. And that is because his campaign has been deliberately
vague. He gave way very few details about how he plans to preside over this country or deal with its many very serious problems including that
five-year war against Russian backed separatists in the east of the country.
There is an acute awareness of just how inexperienced he is. Some people voted for him of him because of it, some despite it. But all of those
voters share the hope that the result will be a fresh face, someone who stands completely apart from the corruption, the dirty and ineffective
politics that have defined this country for so long.
[14:20:02] The people of Ukraine have spoken with remarkable unity and they have said there's no one in the current political class who deserves to
lead us. We choose a comedian instead, someone who is very experienced at pretending to be President.
This was the moment Volodymyr Zelensky knew he had won Ukraine's presidency. He's the shortish figure jumping around in the middle. Very
different to the other time he found out he was Ukraine's next President on his fictional TV show about a school teacher who accidentally becomes the
head of state.
That good-natured character is hugely loved here because he shares the fury many Ukrainians feel. Volodymyr Zelensky's character dreams about shooting
Parliament. And he's promised to wipe out the old political class. That message, a warm smile, have shooting Parliament. Shooting Parliament. And
he's promised to wipe out the old political class.
That message, a warm smile, have been enough to secure a landslide win in a country desperate for change. His victory speech was a list of thank yous
and a promise to never let the people down. At polling stations, people mentioned one word more than others, corruption. Corruption has infested
politics ever since it broke from the Soviet Union. The losing incumbent, Petro Poroshenko was judged not to have done enough to stop it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's certainly not enough. But to start to move in the right direction finally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
This is a country that's been desperate to fix its democracy for a long time. It's experienced two revolutions in the last 15 years. In that
context, this election is historic, a sitting President is being removed peacefully and democratically after a free and often boisterous campaign.
Volodymyr Zelensky dominated with slick on line videos. Volodymyr Zelensky insisted they both undergo drug and alcohol tests and the country watched
them do it. They faced out of in a stadium of more than 20,000 people. A political debate with the feel of a big sporting match. Volodymyr
Zelensky's win was never in doubt. Throughout the campaign Poroshenko's message of security and stability just couldn't cut through the excitement
of a new phase declaring things don't have to be the same.
Phil Black CNN, Kiev.
JONES: More analysis, let's bring in the former United States Ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor. Welcome to the program. We know now that
Volodymyr Zelensky has one. Who would the current U.S. administration have preferred to have won?
BILL TAYLOR, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: The current administration has said very clearly all along that they will work with
whoever wins in this election. They tend not to take positions on personalities. They look for values and they look for policies and they
look for a team. The values that Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed are consistent with his predecessor, a western orientation, interested in
joining the EU, NATO. He talks about cleaning up corruption and making Ukraine a better place to invest.
Those are the values that the United States is looking for and probably the Europeans are and that's what appealed to the Ukraine people.
JONES: You've said that we know what the values are of Volodymyr Zelensky, but we're not clear on what the policies are. This is a sort of populist
victory. Is this someone that Donald Trump can do business with?
TAYLOR: Donald Trump will certainly do business with the new President. Donald Trump would do business with either of the candidates, and he will
do business with Volodymyr Zelensky. Volodymyr Zelensky has a background in TV. President Trump will understand that. I think this will be a --
he's also a businessman and so there will be an understanding there as well.
JONES: What about -- what the United States and Ukraine's joint interest? What is America's main concern when it looks at Ukraine, is it what's
happening in the east of the country with this ongoing war and the Russian encroachment or is it about oil and gas reserves?
[14:25:03] TAYLOR: It's definitely about the war. It's not a proxy war. This is a real war. Russian has invaded Ukraine. Russia has sent its
troops into Ukraine proper. This is no proxy war. This is a real war. And, yes, that is the main -- the first interest of the United States in
Ukraine, Ukraine is on the border, is on the front lines of a battle, of a war that Russia is waging against Europe, Ukraine and then against the
JONES: We appreciate your time on the program. Thank you very much, sir.
We return to our top story, the White House says President Donald Trump called Sri Lanka's Prime Minister to express his condolences. The FBI
confirmed it is assisting with Sri Lanka's Prime Minister to express his condolences. The FBI confirmed it is assisting with the investigation.
This comes as the U.S. Secretary of State warns that terror groups like ISIS and those they inspire are still a serious threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Radical Islamic terror remains a threat. The President has been very clear about that. We are continuing to do real
work against these evil human beings that went into places of worship on Easter Sunday, Yes, we've taken that threat down substantially. The
destruction of the caliphate was important and it mattered. And the takedown from these threats from other geographies as well. But sadly,
this evil exists around the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: He fears an international network of terrorists carried out Sunday's bombings. Pompeo also spoke about Iran today and the pressure the
U.S. is putting on countries that do business with Iran. The U.S. will no longer grant waivers that buy Iranian oil. Let's discuss all of this with
Brian Hook, he's a senior policy adviser to secretary Pompeo and joins us live now from Washington.
Thank you very much for joining us on the program. I want to begin with asking you about Sri Lanka. We know that the U.S. is helping with the
ongoing investigations of the authorities there. There is now this suggestion that an international network would have been supporting any
local extremist group that carried out the attacks. Can you, at the state department, give us any further information as to the possible
international links of the perpetrators?
BRIAN HOOK, SENIOR POLICY ADVISER TO SECRETARY POMPEO: It's still very early and I heard the clip that you played from secretary Pompeo this
morning. We have made gains against Islamist extremism. That started when President Trump's first international trip as President. He talked about
the need to drive this extremism out of the region.
And it has a very broad reach. And even though we've been able to defeat ISIS on the battlefield, that does not mean that we've defeated the
ideology that inspires people to commit the kinds of acts that we've seen in Sri Lanka.
And so it's very early in this. We're working very closely with everybody on the ground to get to the bottom of this as soon as we can and to
continue to do everything we can to call it for what it is and to do what we can to stop these events from happening in the future.
JONES: We are still waiting confirmation of what group may have been behind the attacks, whether it's Islamic extremism. Was it premature for
President Trump to say ISIS is defeated, but certainly not in terms of ideology and the tentacle that it has spread wide and far?
HOOK: It is not a distant memory to recall the beheadings on beaches, being burned alive in cages, this concern about a terrorist army in the
heart of the Middle East and when the President came into office, he made defeating ISIS his top priority, that that was the most eminent and sort of
grave national security threat that we faced and he went to work and working by, with, and through partners on the ground, we have been able to
take away every inch of territory that ice has held. And so I wouldn't discount that accomplishment.
[14:30:02] JONES: I want to ask you also about Iran and the announcement made today about your boss, Mike Pompeo's, comments on that as well. It
means that Donald Trump has ended the waivers for countries importing Iranian oil. Why is that happening now and is this as much about punishing
those states such as India, China, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, as well as it is about punishing Iran?
HOOK: It is not about punishing any of those countries that you named. Iran, its largest source of revenue is oil imports. They take that revenue
and they use it to spend billions of dollars to support the civil war, Hezbollah and their attacks on Israel, supporting militias in Iraq.
If we are going to deny Iran the ability to fund these proxy wars throughout the Middle East, we have to go after their oil revenue and
today's announcement is that there will be no more waivers granted to countries to import Iranian crude oil, the global oil markets are well
supplied and stable, and we're now in a position to zero out Iranian imports.
HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: But you talked us there about humanitarian crisis across the country. But the fact that Iran is
going to be essentially cut off means that someone else has to fill the void.
Now, we've already heard, and I think we can bring up the tweet from the president saying that Saudi Arabia and others will fill the void left by
Iran, as far as oil is concerned. Is it appropriate, though, for the United States to be reliant on Saudi Arabia to fuel its country?
HOOK: It's not just Saudi Arabia. It is important that Saudi Arabia do what it can to offset the loss of Iranian barrels of crude oil on the
global market. But the United States, last year, increased its oil protection by 1.6 million barrels. We've had other people come online.
Saudi Arabia, today, announced that it would -- because it is a similar crude oil that Iran exports.
And so as we try to help other countries around the world make a very smooth transition away from Iranian crude and other compatible crude, Saudi
is a very natural alternative. But so is American crude oil depending on the nature of the refining capabilities of each country. So we're working
with a lot of producers around the world to ensure a very well supplied and stable oil market.
JONES: Brian Hook, we appreciate your time on the program. Thank you.
JONES: And do stay with us here on CNN. Plenty more coming up after this short break.
JONES: Numbers never tell a complete story, of course. There is the human elements, the people whose lives were ended or changed forever due to the
terrible bombings in Sri Lanka. And yet, the numbers in this case are staggering. And help us to understand the scope of this tragedy, 290
people lost their lives.
But several victims in critical condition, that number could still go higher. More than 500 others are known to have been injured. Those
numbers make it one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the world since the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the United States.
CNN's Sam Kiley has been talking with survivors. He joins us now live from Colombo in Sri Lanka.
And, Sam, one wonders what this terror atrocity means for how people on the outside world view Sri Lanka and how Sri Lankans knew their own country as
[14:35:00] SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hannah, I think from the outside perspective and this is part of the intent
clearly for whatever terrorist group was behind these series of clearly well planned atrocities, is an attempt to undermine one of the bedrocks of
Sri Lanka's economy and that is the tourist industry. Absolutely vital to the future of Sri Lanka, particularly after its 30 years of civil war now a
decade into peace with the Tamil tiger's country very much of the top of many people's list for holiday destinations.
And clearly by attacking not only churches, but western hotels that are favored by wealthy westerners, sending a signal that this -- that the
intent to send a signal that this is not a safe place to visit.
Of course, we've seen similar attacks in scale, for example, almost in Paris with no particular effect on tourism. But this is a more vulnerable
environment. So that's the first thing.
In terms of how the Sri Lankans are coping, well, on the government level, they're in pieces, they are arguing amongst themselves, they are putting up
their hands and saying admitting that they failed completely to read the intelligence signals that they were getting. But this is cold comfort
indeed for the people who have been affected in the churches, in particular.
And we visited earlier on today, Hannah, St. Sebastian's Church about 45 minutes outside of the capital, Colombo. It was a scene of complete
devastation. The roof quite literally had been blown off by a single suicide bomber.
And we spoke to a priest who was officiating, he was a survivor of the attack and now is facing trying to rebuild his congregation. Here's in
brief is what he said to us, Hannah.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FATHER SANJEEWA APPUHAMY, SAN SEBASTIAN CHURCH: It was very, very intensive, in the sense that it blasted in such a way, there were children,
there were women and all close by and all were blown off almost. So you have hundreds -- more than 100 people who were killed on the spot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KILEY: One hundred twenty-two people officially killed there. That was the figure as of yesterday. That may well have climbed. There's due to be
a burial of 67 victims of that attack, Hannah, tomorrow.
And the bishop of the area told us that they'd actually had to buy or stop, move into a new cemetery to cope with the numbers of dead that they're
going to have to bury in a single day. This is a country that doesn't have a tradition of friction between the small Christian community and other
religions. And that clearly is part of the intent of this attack, is to try to create friction where none exists, Hannah.
JONES: Sam Kiley, live for us there in Sri Lanka. Thanks very much indeed, Sam.
Well, as we noted and some Sam noted, 290 people were killed in the attacks in Sri Lanka, including at least 31 foreign nationals. The latest victim
to be named, a British woman and her two children, Anita, Alex and Anna bel Nicholson. Her husband, Ben Nicholson, says the three had the ability to
light up any room they entered.
The U.S. says there are several American victims including Dieter Kowalski from Denver, Colorado. The children of Denmark's richest man also died in
the attacks, Anders Holch Povlsen, was visiting Sri Lanka over the Eastern holiday with his family when three of his four children were killed in the
But, of course, most of the victims were Sri Lankans, including a well- known television chef, Shantha Mayadunne, who is popular in India and the U.K. too. Her daughter, apparently, posted this image on Facebook just
minutes before the explosions.
The family was sitting down for Easter breakfast at the Shanri-La Hotel in Colombo. Both mother and daughter were killed. A very dark day indeed in
Sri Lanka as the island nation continues to mourn.
Let's get the perspective then of a local Sri Lankan journalist. Joining us know via Skype is, Easwaran Rutnam, the editor of the Colombo Gazette
and a correspondent for Asia Pacific Daily.
Thanks very much for joining us. I hope the connections are clear enough for you. I want to ask you, first of all, about the mood amongst the
people in Sri Lanka. Do they have fear of more attacks and is there a sense of nervousness about whether the government, whether the authorities,
have a grip on this situation going forward?
EASWARAN RUTNAM, EDITOR, COLOMBO GAZETTE: Well, the sense of -- or the mood in Sri Lanka right now is both sadness and a lot of anger as well.
There's a lot of fear that these attacks may not be well over. Just today, that is Monday, there was this van that was found packed with explosives,
and it was defused. But the explosion at the time that the control diffuse -- the controlled explosion was carried out by the police.
[14:40:07] Now, the time the explosion took place, a few buildings around the also were damaged. There was a sense of fear that finding this van and
locating this van, at that location, this was near the church, near one of the churches which were attacked on Sunday. Finding this van a day later,
sort of gave fear or gave rise to fear that singular bombs maybe planted elsewhere as well.
JONES: And, of course, it's just 10 years on since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka. For many people, it will be in their lifetime that they
will remember the violence and conflict that came before.
Could you just explain for us, Easwaran, what the political balance of power is currently in Sri Lanka? Is it still based on a sectarian split
along the same lines of the civil war?
RUTNAM: Well, the political power is based on a civilized majority-led government. There have been concerns that at least the former government
was seen as being (INAUDIBLE) majority. This government came into power with the support of the minorities, the Muslims and Christians, especially,
supported this government, because the former regime led by former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was not favored by the Muslims after there
was incidents where Buddhist extremists attacked Muslims and Muslim faith with their worship, and Muslim establishments.
So this government came in with the mandate of establishing ability and reconciliation. But this incident has sort of tarnished the image that
this government had, especially since there has been a split between the prime minister and the president and that has greatly shown in different
ways, both in the political arena as well as in governing the country.
And now, this incident itself has drawn light to the fact that the split has not -- has not helped with the security arrangements, that the
president is the (INAUDIBLE) administer, and there is an allegation from the prime minister that he was unaware of an intelligence report which had
been out just before this incident.
JONES: Oh, yes. So a lot of political healing that needs to happen as well in the aftermath of this tragedy.
Easwaran Rutnam, many thanks for joining us.
I want to get more on this, though. And joining us live now is Amarnath Amarasingam, an expert on terrorism and a senior research fellow at the
Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Thank you very much for joining us.
There have been suggestions, a lot of suggestions reports that the perpetrators of this attack is a local Islamist extremist group. Would
such a group be capable of carrying out such a coordinated series of attacks?
AMARNATH AMARASINGAM, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC DIALOGUE: I mean, it's difficult to say at this point. And I'm fairly
skeptical about whether a lot of these local groups are big enough or capable enough to carry out an attack of this scale without going -- while
going unnoticed at the same time.
We're talking six suicide attacks, seven or eight arrests, and I think now up to 24 arrests since yesterday. That's a massive cell, that's a massive
operation to carry out under the radar, so to speak. So that's why I kind of -- I'm under the assumption that some of these individuals are, at
least, probably in contact with some kind of foreign terrorist organization. There's no evidence for that yet. There's no claim from Al-
Qaeda or ISIS, as far as a couple of minutes ago. But I, eventually, at the very least, it might be inspired by some kind of organization. But I
would be -- I would be kind of surprised if there wasn't more involvement from outside groups.
JONES: No evidence as you say as yet, or claim of culpability. However, we do know that there were warnings, some of those warnings came from the
United States, that such a terror attack could be possible in Sri Lanka and the government there has already apologized for missing those warnings, for
not acting. How was it possible that a government doesn't act on such a threat?
AMARASINGAM: I'm speculating here, I'm theorizing here. But I think a lot of what we know about Sri Lanka in the local context is that there's been
kind of a history of anti-Muslim violence, there's been history of mosques being destroyed and businesses being burned over the last couple of years,
and I think that broader context sets the stage for how intelligence is received and particularly what this current government, if the intelligence
is coming from opposition parties or international sources that they believe are, you know, intent on stoking anti-Muslimism violence locally.
It could kind of color the scene in terms of how they receive intel like that.
[14:45:59] I suspect that this is the context in which something like you have a sleeper cell in your country and it's this large and here are the
names. I suspect that's how that information was probably received. Whether it actually made it to the proper authorities is another matter and
I think the prime minister came out and said that he had never seen this document or that he was not aware of the actual threat.
But whether that was communicated to the right authorities, whether it was just kind of stopped within the intelligence community and wasn't passed
on, is unclear at the moment, I think.
But I think the broader context of how these minority communities are viewed and how they're treated, I think influences how the intel about them
as threats might have been received.
JONES: Amarnath, what do you make of the Facebook and social media in general being shut down, they're being blacked out across Sri Lanka at the
There seems to be this fear of the spread of misinformation and fake news and the like, which is of course worrying. But is that a long-running fear
throughout Sri Lanka for a long time prior to these attacks?
AMARASINGAM: Absolutely. I think as far back as 2013, we saw a massive amount of misinformation, conspiracy, hate speech, particularly aimed at
the Muslim community, you know, pictures of Muslims being compared to dogs, that dogs are more responsive to their owner than Muslims are. Things like
that. Businesses being burned. Mosques in traditional areas being destroyed and moved out of so-called Sinhalese areas and things like that.
That was in 2013.
Then we had a bit of quiet and then last year, especially, it popped up again. And this time, it was almost squarely blamed on misinformation on
Facebook, and WhatsApp and other kind of chat platforms and social media platforms.
So I think with this current attack, the government took an interesting step. I don't know how they received or what the long-term impact is, but
took an interesting step to say the likely response of an attack like this is more misinformation and more attacks against the Muslim population. So
we're going to kind of cut it off at the source and -- with the hope that nothing actually spills over.
JONES: We appreciate your expertise on this. Amarnath Amarasingam, thank you very much, sir.
And still to come tonight on the program, "see you in court," that's how Donald Trump's attorneys are responding to demands from Congress for some
of his key financial records. We're live on Capitol Hill, straight ahead.
JONES: One big legal battle is shaping up in Washington over what President Trump once called his red line. He and his Trump organization
have filed a lawsuit to try to block a democratic chaired House committee from obtaining his financial records.
Let's get right to Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill for all the details. And, Sunlen, is it unprecedented or at the very least, unusual, for one
branch of government to sue another?
[14:50:01] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is, Hannah. And this really does signify an escalation in the ongoing
battle between President Trump and House Democrats in this fight over information, as you noted, Trump and the Trump organization, specifically
also filed suit today to stop the subpoena that came from the House oversight committee and Chairman Elijah Cummings, and they're suing him and
saying that they essentially do not want to turn over this financial information that the committee requested.
That information was requested by a formal subpoena last week. They requested, Mazars, which is the accounting firm that President Trump
employed. They asked for Mazars to turn over 10 years' worth of President Trump's financial records.
Now, in this lawsuit that was filed today by Trump's team, Trump's lawyers accuse House Democrats of being singularly obsessed, and this is their
wording with finding something they can use to damage the president politically.
Now, we have heard from Democrats, Hannah, in the time since Elijah Cummings shooting right back saying that this is a pattern from President
Trump. He said President Trump has a history of trying to use baseless lawsuits to attack his adversaries.
No doubt this will continue, this back and forth, Hannah, this lightly sets up a very lengthy protracted battle that will likely be waged in the courts
over this access to information and it's certainly is just one of many investigations and pursuits from Democrats up here on Capitol Hill for
information surrounding President Trump.
JONES: When we're talking about financial records, we're talking specifically about his tax returns, right? The one thing that he said is
under audit and he's got no interest in releasing.
SERFATY: That's right, Hannah. That signifies another investigation going on in the House, Ways and Means Committee looking for President Trump's
taxes and moving forward. And that deadline is coming up tomorrow here in Congress for them to turn that over.
Of course, the expectation is that those records will not be turned over, the tax records will not be turned over setting up another battle that
likely will be waged and fought in the court for many months to come.
JONES: Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thank you.
And stay with us here on CNN. Plenty more is coming up after the short break. See you in a bit.
JONES: Britain's duke and duchess of Sussex are expecting their first child any day now. And while we wait for that news, there is talk that
Prince Harry and Meghan could eventually move after the baby arrives.
Earlier on, Max Foster, filled me in on all the details.
MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it blew up in the Sunday papers, the Sunday Times, to be specific. And often, these stories
are refuted by the palace. But they haven't been this time. So Buckingham Palace issued a statement saying any future plans for the duke and duchess
are speculative at this stage, so it's not a denial. And then we heard from another royal source that the Duke of Cambridge is supportive of his
brother and whatever projects he undertakes.
So neither sort of Kensington Palace side nor Buckingham Palace side have denied this. Certainly, Harry and Meghan are looking for the role that
they'll take up publicly after they've had the baby. They've been given an international role by the queen as part of the commonwealth work that she
And as part of that, I think they're probably considering some sort of attachments to government, to a country in the commonwealth. Most likely
in Africa, because the connections they both have there.
JONES: Yes. And there's a lot of credibility in this as well, isn't there? Given the fact that they both have a love of Botswana, they have
charity connections to the continent as well. And, of course, the queen and Prince Phillip, before the queen took the throne as well. They lived
abroad for a while.
[14:55:06] FOSTER: Yes. And they can have a private life there more so than they could here or the United States. So in Botswana, for example, a
country where Harry visits all the time where they got engaged. Her engagement ring is actually a part from Botswana.
FOSTER: The media don't hassle them there. And there's some sort of a system in place with the local authorities. The media have never been able
to photograph from there. So that's probably a good choice. They can perhaps move around the country or the continent as well off the back of --
JONES: How much can we, should we read into the Duke of Cambridge and his comments saying that he would be supportive of such a move. There's been
so much made of brothers at war at the moment.
FOSTER: The first thing is they're not dismissing it. So it seems as though there's something there. They're discussing it. There's lots to
talk about a rift, initially, between the wives. I don't think there's much in that. There's no evidence for it, anyway.
The brothers have talked about arguing before. I think Harry really want some independence. He was living with his brother, working with his
brother. He's now married, he's having a kid. He wants to move out, of course in the palace. He is just on that, as we understand it and he's
setting up an office at Buckingham Palace.
You know, they are young. William and Kate had time in Wales when they were newlyweds. The queen had time in (INAUDIBLE) when she was a newlywed.
There's a bit of a history to this. So if he's going to take up that opportunity, it probably makes sense to do it now. They have the baby so
quickly. And Africa probably would be the place he would gravitate too.
JONES: Our Max Foster there just ahead of the long baby watch. NO doubt start soon.
Now, London police have arrested more than 1,000 people at ongoing climate change rallies. It began a week ago and the group behind them called
Extinction Rebellion says the campaign will continue for another week. The rallies have caused major disruptions in London and other cities around the
world have seen similar protests.
Well, meanwhile, today, marks Earth Day and this year's focus has been on the fight to save several species that are at risk or in danger because of
human activity. Take for example, the humble bee. It's a keystone species that other animals are dependent on to survive including humans.
Globally, they are under threat right now with one in four wild bee species in the U.S. at risk of extinction. Ways to stop that are as east as
apparently planting a bee-friendly garden or keeping pot plants. I don't currently keep bees, but I do keep pot plants. And maybe I'm doing my bit.
Thanks so much for watching tonight. Stay with us here at CNN. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is coming up next.