New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters hit back at Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister’s claim that the Easter Sunday attacks on hotels and churches in Sri Lanka were carried out in retaliation for the shooting at a New Zealand mosque last month.
Ruwan Wijewardene said last Tuesday that “preliminary investigations” indicated that the bombings in Sri Lanka were a response to the attack by a white supremacist on two New Zealand mosques in mid-March that left 50 people dead.
There may have been thematic similarities between the attacks, both of which targeted national religious minorities in their houses of worship, but that may have been all: Wijewardene declined to provide evidence that the one was in response to the other. And the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility, also issued last Tuesday, made no mention of New Zealand.
The prime ministers of both Sri Lanka and New Zealand backed away from the claim shortly after it was made.
“It is possible [that Sunday’s attacks] could have been because of the Christchurch attacks,” Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, adding, “We cannot say yet.”
“We understand the Sri Lankan investigation into the attack is in its early stages. New Zealand has not yet seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Peters pushed back in somewhat tougher terms.
“It’s a slightly cheap shot, I suppose, to try to explain it away. Let’s see the evidence,” Peters said in an interview with Sky News, reiterating that his government had as yet seen none.
“Sometimes it pays to . . . get the facts first before you beat your lips with an opinion,” Peters went on, adding that there was a “fair chance” that the link had been made in the first place to distract from the Sri Lankan government and intelligence service’s own failure to stop the plot before it had been carried out.
Peters also noted that experts suggest that the attacks, which took place in cities across Sri Lanka, would have been planned before the attack on the mosques in Christchurch.
There was another recent terrorist attack that was apparently in part in response to the Christchurch shooting: A manifesto posted online under the same name as that of the 19-year-old suspect behind the Saturday shooting at a California synagogue cites the New Zealand attack as a “catalyst” and a source of inspiration.