Over 200 people were killed and nearly 500 injured in a series of blasts that shook Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Churches and luxury hotels were targeted in the deadliest incidents since the civil war ended a decade ago.
As many as eight blasts occurred in and around the capital Colombo and in the eastern city of Batticaloa on Sunday morning, as large groups gathered at churches for Easter services.
“Most of the blasts appear to have been suicide bombings,” State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene told a press conference.
Hours after the coordinated attacks, police arrested several suspects from a building in the Colombo suburb of Dematagoda. Even as the police operation was underway, an explosion took place, killing three policemen. More arrests were likely, official sources said.
Following the developments, authorities blocked access to social media including Facebook, Whatsapp and Viber to “prevent” misinformation. A curfew was declared till Monday morning.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts. Investigating authorities in Sri Lanka are yet to disclose the names of the suspects or the alleged perpetrators.
President Maithripala Sirisena has appealed for calm. “I have been shocked ... The security forces haven been asked to take all action necessary,” Mr. Sirisena said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe termed the blasts as “cowardly attacks” and said his government was working to “contain the situation.”
At least eight foreign nationals were confirmed dead by Sunday evening, while 27 others who were found dead, were “believed to be foreigners”, a senior official of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry told The Hindu . Their nationalities are yet to be made known by the Ministry.
Fr. Kanapathipillai Deivendiran was to deliver the Easter Day message at the Zion Church in Batticaloa. “I went a little after 9 a.m. I was a few minutes late or you will not be speaking to me now,” he told The Hindu .
“I didn’t know that there had been a blast a few minutes before that, I just walked into the premises. As I entered, I was shaken by the sight — walls had collapsed completely, there were bodies all over the floor,” he said.
According to director of the Batticaloa Teaching Hospital Kalaranjani Ganesalingam, 26 people were dead while 69 were admitted with injuries. “Six are still in the ICU. Everybody here is in a state of fear,” she said.
The scale and savagery of the attacks that clearly targeted Christians have left Sri Lankans devastated. and confused. Christians are a minority in the island nation, making up less than 10% of the country’s 20-million population.
“We are shocked…we thought Sri Lanka had put violence behind it, and is moving forward towards some kind of development and reconciliation... where people’s biggest concern had become the cost of living. But we’re back to existential questions again, facing existential threats,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, former UN Under-Secretary-General. The attacks, she said, showed “the intractable” nature of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict and that enough had not been done for reconciliation or long-term prospects of peace.