Colombo (AsiaNews) - Two gunmen threatened to kill Fr SS Johnpillai, priest of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the diocese of Trincomalee (Eastern Province). The attack took place on 26 November, but local authorities did everything they could to keep the affair under wrap.
Claiming to be Special Forces officers, two men accused the priest of celebrating a Mass that morning in honour of Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as Tamil Tigers. That same day, the Sri Lankan government had declared illegal any commemoration of the rebels.
"As a priest, like every morning I celebrated Mass, but I did no honour Prabhakaran or the Tamil Tigers," Fr Johnpillai told AsiaNews. Eventually, he wrote a statement to ensure that his story would be known.
"That night," he said, "I was in the hut next to the church, reading newspapers. Nobody was around and it was already dark. The cleaners and the sacristan were elsewhere. Suddenly, two men came out of nowhere, asking if I was the parish priest. When I introduced myself, they said they had to question me. I asked them to identify themselves. They told me they were Special Forces agents, but did not provide any proof of their identity."
At that point, Fr Johnpillai said he refused to answer questions from two people who refused to identify themselves. "They became furious and started to insult me," he explained. "They accused me of commemorating Prabhakaran during Mass, something which I denied. Ignoring my words, they put a gun to my head, threatening to shoot."
"I fell to the ground in shock," he said. "They left telling me not to come out or report what happened, promising that they would return soon. I followed them to take down their license plate, but their motorcycles did not have any".
Once his attackers had gone, the clergyman called the episcopal vicar telling him what happened. The latter, in turn, called the police officer in charge of the area who said he could not identify the two.
Later, only at the request of Mgr Kingsely Swamipillay, bishop of Trincomalee, did police send two agents to provide security to the church and the priest.
However, the head of the local military, in charge of local security, said that none of his soldiers had been sent to question Fr Johnpillai.