What is Known So Far
Sri Lanka was rocked by a series of deadly suicide bombings on Easter Sunday, with the carnage the first since the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009.
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The apparently coordinated string of bombings were reported to have begun on Sunday morning at around 9 am, as local Catholics flocked to churches to mark Easter mass. The attacks concentrated on Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, on the western side of the island, as well as the city of Negombo 35 km to the north, and Dehiwala, about 10 km to the south. On the opposite side of the island, the city of Batticaloa was targeted.
In Colombo, St. Anthony’s Shrine was hit by a bombing attack, with four hotels including the Shangri-La Hotel, Cinnamon Grand Hotel, the Kingsbury Hotel, and Tropical Inn Hotel near the National Zoological Garden also targeted.
Sri Lankan police officers clear the road as an ambulance drives through carrying injured of Church blasts in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. A Sri Lanka hospital spokesman says several blasts on Easter Sunday have killed dozens of people.
In Negombo, St. Sebastian’s Church was hit during mass. In Batticaloa, meanwhile, the Zion Church was rocked by a powerful explosion that led to over 300 injuries, according to local hospital officials.
With an eighth explosion hitting the Colombo suburb of Orugodawatta on Sunday afternoon, casualty figures remain fluid, although police have estimated that at least 185 people have been killed, with over 470 suffering from non-fatal injuries as of mid-day Sunday. At least two of the blasts were caused by suicide bombers, police have said.
According to hospital sources cited by Agence France-Presse, the attacks have killed 35 foreigners, including UK, US, Japanese and Dutch nationals, and wounded multiple others.
Government Vows Action
Sri Lankan authorities have vowed to deal with the terrorism, with President Maithripala Sirisena telling reporters that he had instructed security forces “to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy”.
At the same time, Sirisena urged Sri Lankans to show patience and restraint, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe echoing the sentiment and calling on the island nation “to remain united and strong” during “this tragic time” and to “avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation”.
Police have already cordoned off the affected areas to engage in search operations and begun investigations, with a curfew announced across the country to start at 6 pm local time.
As a precautionary measure, authorities have temporarily blocked access to all social media platforms across the island, saying the measure was aimed at preventing “incorrect and wrong information being spread”.
As noted above, no group has taken responsibility for the violence. Sunday’s terrorism was the first violence of its kind, and on such a mass scale, since the Sri Lankan Civil War. That conflict raged from 1983 to 2009, with the Tamil Tiger rebels demanding the formation of a separate “Tamil state” in the country’s north and east.
The war, which led to over 100,000 casualties and displaced some 800,000 Sri Lankans, ended on 16 May 2009, with a government victory. During the war, the Tamil Tigers resorted to multiple terrorist attacks, assassinations, bombings and suicide attacks. However, the Tamils generally did not target religious organisations, with many Tamils being of the Catholic faith.
Just over 6 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 21.5 million self-identify as Catholics, with the vast majority of the country being Buddhists.
On Sunday afternoon, AFP reported that Sri Lankan police received a warning from a foreign intelligence agency on 11 April that militants from Thowheeth Jama’ath, a radical Islamist group, were planning to carry out suicide bombing attacks against major churches across the island, as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo.