Monday, 22 April 2019 05:39

More than 200 Dead in Easter Blasts on Sri Lankan Churches, Hotels

In the deadliest violence in Sri Lanka in a decade, multiple explosions ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, leaving more than 200 dead and more than 400 others wounded.

The first six blasts, which began around 8:45 a.m. local time, were coordinated and claimed most of the fatalities, while two smaller blasts took place several hours later. The targets of the bombings were Catholic worshippers, attending Easter prayers at churches in three cities, and tourists.

The blasts shocked the island nation that has been relatively peaceful since a bloody civil war ended 10 years ago.

Seven people have been arrested in connection with the attacks for which no one has claimed responsibility.

 

The capital Colombo, where three major hotels and one church were targeted, bore the brunt of the mayhem. Ambulances wailed through its streets and hundreds of people turned out to donate blood as the injured were rushed to the hospital. Thousands of police were posted in the streets while the army stood guard outside state buildings.

The two other churches to suffer the attacks were in Negombo, a Catholic-majority town just north of Colombo, and in the eastern district of Batticaloa.

The Gothic-style St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo appeared to have taken the worst hit. Photos posted on Facebook by church authorities, who issued appeals for help in the aftermath of the bombing, showed a shattered roof, blood-stained pews and bodies on the floor. Witnesses said they saw smoke billowing out of the targeted churches.

The blasts in the afternoon took place at a small hotel close to the national zoo near Colombo and another at a house elsewhere in the capital city.

About 30 foreigners, including American and British citizens were among those dead and injured in the attacks. Lying in the Indian ocean on India’s southern tip, Sri Lanka’s sandy, tropical beaches are a popular tourist destination in South Asia. The hotels hit were the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury Hotel.

“Horrible scenes, I saw many body parts strewn all over," said senior minister, Harsh de Silva after visiting a church and a hotel in Colombo.

Police say they are investigating whether suicide bombers are involved in the attacks.

Authorities ordered a night time curfew and blocked access to major social media and messaging sites including Facebook and WhatsApp to in a bid to stem the flow “misinformation and rumours.” Schools have been shut until Tuesday and police advised people to stay indoors.

As rumors about the possibility of more attacks spread rapidly in a bewildered nation, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appealed to people to stay “united and strong.” Condemning the “cowardly” attacks, he said on a Twitter post, “Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena blamed extremists for what he called the “unfortunate terrorist incident.”

Statements of condemnation came in from top officials. Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the blasts appeared to be a "well-co-ordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.”

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

Christians make up about seven and a half percent of the mostly Buddhist nation of 21 million.

Sri Lanka witnessed nearly a quarter century of violence, bombings and terror attacks that often hit high profile targets during a bloody civil war led by Tamil guerrillas for an independent homeland for the ethnic community, but the insurgency was crushed in 2009.

Since then the tiny country has witnessed some political instability and sporadic incidents religious and ethnic violence, but no violence of the kind that shattered its calm on Sunday.

Christian groups have said they face increasing intimidation from hardline Buddhist monks in recent years. However such harassment is on a relatively minor level, says Jehan Perera who heads the National Peace Council in Colombo.

Pointing out that churches were hit, he asks “Who would target Catholics? There has been anti-Christian sentiment but on a very small scale with regard to conversions that are happening in different localities but not to the extent that people would be killed. Sometimes there were stones thrown, sometimes a pastor were chased away, but not massive blood letting.”

Sri Lankan security personnel walk through debris following an explosion in St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on April 21, 2019.

Condemnation of the deadly bombings poured in from leaders across the world including U.S. President Donald Trump. The head of Sri Lanka’s biggest neighbor, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “there is no place for such barbarism in our region”.

Pope Francis condemned the attacks during his Easter Sunday address in Rome and offered condolences to "the victims of such cruel violence."

In an interview to a local television network, Colombo’s Archbishop, Malcolm Ranjith called on people to remain calm. He has also asked authorities conduct an impartial, strong inquiry and to punish those responsible “mercilessly.”

(VOA)

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