Sri Lanka—A series of bombs rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, April 21, leaving 207 dead and 450 others injured, including several foreign nationals. Officials expect the death toll to continue to rise.
The whole country is currently in lockdown, with a curfew imposed on Sunday evening. While no group has claimed responsibility for the bombings yet, Sri Lankan police have said that eight individuals have been arrested in connection with the deadly attacks.
This is the most severe attack in Sri Lanka since the end of its civil war a decade ago.
In an endeavour to stop the spread of misinformation online, the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also shut down social media sites and messaging apps.
Gihan Seneviratne, a spokesman for the country’s air force, said that an improvised explosive device had been discovered and disposed of near the airport in Colombo, the company’s capital. “A PVC pipe which was six feet [1.8m] in length containing explosives in it was discovered,” he said on Sunday evening.
Details of the attack
On April 21, at 8:45 am, local time, six explosions went off in quick succession at three churches and three hotels. Easter Sunday services at churches in Negombo, Batticaloa, and Colombo’s Kochchikade district were disrupted by explosions, and the Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and Shangri-La hotels in Colombo were also targeted.
While police had just commenced looking into these explosions, two others occurred—one at the zoo in Dehiwala, southern Colombo, and the other at the Dematagoda district, also in Colombo, in the midst of a police raid.
Government minister Harsha de Silva said that the two final bombings seem to have been executed as the terrorists were fleeing from authorities.
Three police officers died during the eighth blast.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks and said in a news conference on Sunday night that the first priority is to apprehend those responsible for them. “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong.”
He also answered questions regarding rumours that police had received notice recently that a terrorist attack would occur, saying, “We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken. Neither I nor the Ministers were kept informed.”
Pujuth Jayasundara, the country’s police chief, had issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, containing a warning that suicide bombers were planning to attack “prominent churches”.
It read, “A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ [National Thowheeth Jama’ath] is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo.” The National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a local radical Muslim group, had been connected to incidents in 2018 of vandalization of Buddhist statues.
Ruwan Wijewardene, the country’s defence minister, announced that suicide bombers from one particular group had carried out most of the attacks, calling the bombings the actions of religious extremists.
Officials have asked citizens to stay calm during ongoing investigations.
According to a secretary to the foreign ministry, Ravinatha Aryasinha, there are around 30 bodies of foreigners at the Colombo National Hospital. Two mainland Chinese were among the dead, according to Chinese media.
There are three British nationals and two US-UK dual nationals, one Dutch, one Portuguese, two Turkish, and three Indian citizens who perished in the explosions as well, with Japanese and British nationals among the injured, as confirmed by various foreign ministries.
Many of the Sri Lankans who had perished were Christians attending Easter Sunday services, one of the most important days for believers around the world.
Despite the nationwide curfew, people are allowed to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport, though travellers are required to present identification and boarding passes at checkpoints and have been asked to come to the airport four hours before their flights are scheduled to leave.
An outpouring of sympathy worldwide
Many world leaders expressed their shock and have sent messages of condolences after the deadly blasts, and some monuments had their lights dimmed or carried Sri Lankan colours in the wake of the attack, including the Eiffel Tower.
Pope Francis spoke of the attacks in his Easter message, calling these “such cruel violence” that targeted Christians who were celebrating Easter. He said that he has “affectionate closeness with the Christian community, attacked while it was at prayer.”
A representative for United Nations’ Secretary-General said he was “outraged” by the attacks, and expressed his hope the perpetrators would be “swiftly brought to justice”.
US President Donald Trump sent “heartfelt condolences” for the “horrible terrorist attacks” over Twitter, and UK PM Theresa May sent her condolences as well, writing “acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling” on the same social media platform, and said that no one should have to practice their faith in fear.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose country also suffered deadly attacks in March when two mosques were bombed, said, “Collectively we must find the will and the answers to end such violence.”
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, told the press, “I would also like to ask the government to hold a very impartial strong inquiry and find out who is responsible behind this act and also to punish them mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.”
He called for national unity and expressed his “deepest sorrow and sympathy” for victims of the attacks. “I ask all our Sri Lankan people not to take the law into their own hands and to maintain peace and harmony in this country.”
Other officials including Narendra Modi, Imran Khan, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Vladimir Putin also condemned the attacks.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on Facebook that he was “Horrified by the heinous attacks on churches and hotels across Sri Lanka today on Easter Sunday.”
He continued, “I offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families. Singapore condemns such senseless acts of violence. We stand firmly behind Sri Lanka in its efforts to preserve the hard-wrought peace and stability. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Sri Lanka. May they find strength and unity to overcome this adversity together.”
PM Lee added in his post contact information for any Singaporeans in Sri Lanka who may need consular assistance.
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