23 | MAY | 2019
Bomb attacks kill at least 207 people in Sri Lanka on Easter
A statue of Christ is covered in blood after a bomb exploded inside a church in Sri Lanka- Photo: Stringer/REUTERS

Bomb attacks kill at least 207 people in Sri Lanka on Easter

21/04/2019
12:14
Reuters
Mexico City
Ranga Sirilal, Shihar Aneez
-A +A
The government declared a curfew in Colombo and blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp

Over 207 people were killed and at least 450 injured in bomb blasts that targeted churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the first major attack on the island since the end of a civil war, 10 years ago.

Seven people were arrested and three police officers were killed during a security forces raid on a house in the Sri Lankan capital several hours after the attacks, many of which officials said were suicide bomb explosions.

The government declared a curfew in Colombo and blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp. It is unclear when the curfew will be lifted.

“Altogether, we have information of 207 dead from all hospitals. According to the information as of now, we have 450 injured people admitted to hospitals,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters.

Three churches in various parts of the country and four hotels in Colombo were hit. At least 27 of the dead were foreigners, including five British people, two of whom had dual U.S. citizenship, and three Indians, according to officials in those countries.

Also among the fatalities were three people from Denmark, two from Turkey, and one from Portugal, officials said. There were also Chinese and Dutch among the dead, according to media reports.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009, a time when bomb blasts in the capital were common.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe acknowledged that the government had some “prior information of the attack”, though ministers were not told.

He said there wasn’t an adequate response and there needed to be an inquiry into how the information was used. He also said the government needs to look at the international links of a local militant group.

Agence France Presse reported that it had seen documents showing that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”. He cited a foreign intelligence service as reporting that a little-known Islamist group was planning attacks.

Local Christian groups have said they faced increasing intimidation from some extremist Buddhist monks in recent years. Last year, there were clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam.

The aftermath

The hotels attacked in Colombo were the Shangri-La, the Kingsbury, the Cinnamon Grand, and the Tropical Inn. There was no word on casualties in the hotels, but a witness told local TV he saw some body parts, including a severed head, lying on the ground beside the Tropical Inn.

The first six explosions were all reported within a short period in the morning just as church services were starting.

One of the explosions was at St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Catholic church in Kochcikade, Colombo, a tourist landmark.

The explosion at the Tropical Inn happened later and there was an eighth explosion at a house in Colombo. Police and media said that three officers were killed and seven people detained during a raid on this location.

President Maithripala Sirisena said he had ordered the police special task force and military to investigate who was behind the attacks and their agenda.

The military was deployed, a military spokesman said, and security stepped up at Colombo’s international airport.

Attacks against Christians

Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats, and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organizations.

This year, the NCEASL recorded 26 such incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service, with the last one reported on March 25.

Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22 million, 70% are Buddhist, 12.6% Hindu, 9.7% Muslim, and 7.6% Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.

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